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Department of Maternal,

Newborn, Child and

Adolescent Health

Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health

WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

Counselling for maternal and newborn health care: a handbook for building skills.
1.Counseling. 2.Pregnancy complications - prevention and control. 3.Maternal welfare.
4.Infant, Newborn. 5.Postnatal care. 6.Handbooks. I.World Health Organization.
Dept. of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health.
ISBN 978 92 4 154762 8

(NLM classification: WA 310)

World Health Organization 2013

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The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do
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to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned. Errors and omissions excepted, the
names of proprietary products are distinguished by initial capital letters.
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the information contained in this publication. However, the published material is being
distributed without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied. The responsibility
for the interpretation and use of the material lies with the reader. In no event shall the
World Health Organization be liable for damages arising from its use.
Printed in


This Handbook was developed by the World Health Organization, Department of Making Pregnancy Safer (MPS), which now forms
part of the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (WHO/MCA). The first drafts were developed and written
by Yolande Coombes. Mona Moore developed Session 14 and Rachel Jewkes developed Session 16. Overall technical direction and
supervision of the document was done by Annie Portela of WHO/MCA.
Valuable inputs were provided by an expert advisory group:
Nasr Abdalla - University of Khartoum, Sudan
Hannah Ashwood-Smith - Independent Consultant, Canada
Surabhi Aggarwal - Independent Consultant, India
Isabelle Cazottes - Independent Consultant, France
Kathryn Church - formerly World Health Organization, Switzerland
Frances Ganges - Saving Newborn Lives Initiative, Washington, DC
Tarja Kettunen - University of Jyvskyl, Finland
Laurensia Lawintono - Ministry of Health - Indonesia
Sebalda Leshabari - Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences, Tanzania
Mona Moore - Independent Consultant, USA
Nester Moyo - International College of Midwives, Denmark
Elaine Murphy - George Washington University, USA
Julia Samuelson - World Health Organization, Switzerland
Della Sherratt - formerly World Health Organization, Switzerland
Ruben Siapno - Center for Health Development, Philippines
Ann Starrs - Family Care International, USA
Constanza Vallenas - World Health Organization, Switzerland
Jelka Zupan - World Health Organization, Switzerland
...and other expert reviewers: Fadwa Affara - International Council of Nurses; Alberta Bacci - World Health Organization;
Luc de Bernis - World Health Organization; Heather Brown - Independent Consultant; Laura Cao Romero - Grupo Ticime, A.C.; David
Chomentowski - Editor and translator; Kyllike Christensson - Karolinska Institute; Glyn Elwyn - University of Wales, Swansea; Philippe
Gaillard - World Health Organization; Claudia Garca Moreno - World Health Organization; Peggy Henderson, World Health
Organization; Rachel Jewkes - Medical Research Council, South Africa; Rita Kabra - World Health Organization; Ardi Kaptiningsih World Health Organization; Veronica Kaune - Independent Consultant; Suporn Koedsawang - Development Association of Thailand;
Margaret Leppard - Queen Margaret University College; Sarah Johnson - World Health Organization; Margareta Larsson - World
Health Organization; Ramez Mahaini - World Health Organization; Adriane Martin-Hilber - World Health Organization; Ornella
Lincetto - World Health Organization; Roderico Ofrin - World Health Organization; Juliana Yartey - World Health Organization
Hannah Ashwood-Smith, Isabelle Cazottes and Yolande Coombes conducted the field reviews. We acknowledge with gratitude the
generous contribution of the organizers and participants of the field-reviews and their organizations, particularly:
In Blantyre District, Malawi: Dr Kapit - District Health Officer; Mrs F Khalil; Mrs S Njikho; Mrs M Mphasa; Mrs S Mlusu and Mrs
L Tauzi and staff from Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM). Additional thanks to the Safe Motherhood Team in Malawi for comments and advice.
In Manila, Philippines: Dr Evelyn Felarca - Chief of the Family Health Cluster (Health Operation) in the Centre for Health
Development, the regional health department for Metro Manila, Dr Ruben Siapno, Julieta Angeles, Socorro Baluyut, Elisabeth Dumaran,
Leilanie Aldemo, Celestina Agbayani, Rowena Anyayahan, Rose Ann Bautista, Norma Creus, Nenita Decipulo, Rabina Gomez, Gloria
Jocson, Mara Aurea Laton, Mila Grace Martin, Antonio Pasco, Felyvirgie Pedrera, Charlita Pepino, Priscilla Perola, Emerita Ramos,
Emma Valentin,
In Serang, Sumatra, Indonesia: Laurentia Lawintono, Imma Batubara, Laura Guarenti and Anne Hyre.
In Khartoum, Sudan: Dr. Nasr Abdalla, Dr. Ali Abass, Dr. Firdous, Dr. Ragia and Dr. Hassan (Senior UNFPA Managers).
Technical review and editing: Hannah Ashwood-Smith with support from Barbara Ashwood-Smith
First draft layout: Julie Hankins, Blantyre, Malawi
Second draft layout: Lilly Macharia, Page Shop, Nairobi, Kenya
Final editing: Karen Mulweye
Layout: Paprika, Annecy, France
Cover design and print planning: Duke Gyamerah
Images: Pat Kirby, Nairobi, Kenya and James, Blantyre, Malawi.
Financial support: We gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided under the EC/ACP/WHO partnership
The handbook was revised and updated in 2013 by Juana Willumsen, with support from Brittany Robles. Overall technical direction
and supervision of the document was maintained by Annie Portela of WHO/MCA. Technical input was provided by the following
WHO departments:
WHO/MCA: Maurice Bucagu, Matthews Mathai, Severin Ritter von Xylander, Nigel Rollins
Reproductive Health and Research: Monica Dragoman, Mario Festin, Mary Eluned Gaffield, Bela Ganatra, Claudia Garca-Moreno
Mental Health and Substance Abuse: M. Taghi Yasamy
Financial support for the update was provided by The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation

Ta b l e o f C o n t e n t s


Session 1: Introduction to Handbook



Session 2: Principles of counselling for maternal and newborn health


Session 3: Counselling skills


Session 4: Factors that can influence the counselling session


Session 5: Practical considerations in the counselling process




Session 6: General care in the home during pregnancy


Session 7: Birth and emergency planning


Session 8: Danger signs in pregnancy


Session 9: Post-abortion care


Session 10: Support during labour and childbirth


Session 11: Postnatal care of the mother and newborn


Session 12: Family planning counselling


Session 13: Breastfeeding


Session 14: Women with HIV/AIDS


Session 15: Death and bereavement


Session 16: Women and violence


Session 17: Linking with the community


Annex 1: Information sheets and counselling sheets from the PCPNC


A Handbook for Building Skills



Part 1: Introduction



Session 1

What is in this session?

This Handbook focuses on counselling and communicating with women, their families and communities
to promote the health of mothers and newborns. When we talk about counselling in this book we are
talking about counselling for maternal and newborn health specifically, and this is explored in more
detail in the next session. This session provides an introduction to the Handbook. It gives an overview
of the content of the Handbook and helps you understand how you can use the Handbook to develop
skills in counselling for maternal and newborn health (MNH).

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Describe the aims and objectives of the Handbook
2. Assess the relevance of the aims and objectives of the Handbook to your needs
3. Plan how to use the Handbook to meet your needs.

How do we define counselling in this Handbook?

Nearly everyone who uses this book will have had some experience in counselling, but this experience
will vary greatly. Some people use the term counselling in the context of psycho-social counselling
only, where people with emotional or psychological problems see a qualified counsellor to receive
support and help. You may also be aware of other types of professional or trained counsellors such as
Family Planning (FP) counsellors or Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) counsellors. In this Handbook
we use the term counselling in the context of maternal and newborn health.


Counselling for maternal and newborn health is an interactive process between the
skilled attendant/health worker and a woman and her family, during which information
is exchanged and support is provided so that the woman and her family can make
decisions, design a plan and take action to improve their health.

The goal of this Handbook is to help you as a skilled attendant (SA) to improve and further develop
your counselling and communication skills for maternal and newborn health. This is in order to
ensure that your interactions with women and their families go beyond merely providing them with
information but also that you can support them to put this information into practice, specifically to meet
their needs so that they can improve their health.

4 | Counselling for MNH


Activity 1
10 minutes

To help you reflect on your

current needs and practice

Thinking about your role as a health worker may help you to clarify how you can improve the
way you work. In a group or alone, write down your thoughts and answers to the following
1. What are the primary objectives of your job? For example, is it to save lives? Promote
health? Support the birth of babies? Ensure the efficient running of the department? Try to
focus on three main objectives; the ones you think are the most important.
2. List the three biggest problems you face in achieving your main objectives.
3. What do you need to help you overcome those problems?

Our View
Each of us sees our work roles in a different way even if we are doing the same job.
How we see the objective of our job depends on our personality, skills and even our
outlook on life. The problems you face in trying to achieve your primary objectives will
vary; they could be about needing to improve the service you provide, or about needing
better resources or more time. They might be about the way you interact or the support
you provide to your clients. Good counselling skills may help you achieve some of your
Improved counselling in maternal and newborn health can enable you as a health worker:
1. To better understand the needs of the women and the community to whom you provide
2. To support women in taking better care of themselves and their babies during pregnancy,
birth and the postnatal period.
3. To support women and their families to take actions to improve maternal and newborn
health which specifically meet their needs.
4. To contribute to increased confidence of women, families and the community in the health
facility, services and personnel.
5. To contribute to the communitys satisfaction with the health services and the care you

A Handbook for Building Skills | 5

Session 1

Why was the Handbook developed?

The Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health Department of the World Health Organization
(WHO) developed a clinical guide entitled Pregnancy, Childbirth, Postpartum and Newborn Care: A
guide for essential practice (PCPNC). The PCPNC covers the essential routine and emergency care
of women and their newborn during pregnancy, childbirth, postnatal and post-abortion periods. This
Handbook is a companion to the PCPNC and is designed to strengthen health workers skills to counsel
and communicate with women, their partners and their families about key issues and topics covered in
the PCPNC. In order to work through this Handbook, it is not essential that you have the PCPNC. We
have included within the different sessions the key information that you need to discuss with women and
their families. In Annex 1 you will find the information and counselling sheets from the PCPNC.

How will this Handbook be useful for me?

To help you assess whether this Handbook will be useful for you, consider the
aim and objectives of the Handbook:

To strengthen your skills to effectively counsel and communicate with women, their partners
and families during routine and emergency care in pregnancy, childbirth, postnatal and
post-abortion periods. Effective counselling will support women and their families to put
information into practice so they can take action to improve their health.

After working through this Handbook you will be able to:
1. Understand the women and community to whom you provide your services; both the
overall context in which they live as well as their specific needs.
2. Counsel and communicate more effectively with women, their partners and families
during pregnancy, childbirth, postnatal and post-abortion periods.
3. Use different skills, methods and approaches to counselling in a variety of situations,
with women, their partners and families in effective and appropriate ways.
4. Communicate key information on maternal and newborn health.
5. Support women, their partners and families to take actions for better health and facilitate
this process.
6. Contribute to women and the communities increased confidence and satisfaction in the
services you provide.
In completing this Handbook, you will hopefully find that the advantages of improving your counselling
skills help you personally, as well as the women, their husbands/partners and their families that you
see. Even if you already have experience in counselling, you may find that the Handbook contains
new information and knowledge that will be useful to you in your work.

How do I find my way around the Handbook?

The Handbook is divided into three parts: Part 1 of the Handbook is this introductory session designed to
6 | Counselling for MNH


provide you with an overview of the Handbook; Part 2 includes four sessions that focus on the principles
of counselling and the different skills you will need for counselling in maternal and newborn health; in
Part 3 you will learn how to apply the counselling skills and processes to specific topics in maternal
and newborn health. Each session in Part 3 provides more detail and activities on different counselling
skills applied to different maternal and newborn health topics. The skills are not unique to the topics. For
example, in Session 9 the topic is Post-abortion care and the skills focus includes forming an alliance
with the woman. This is a key counselling skill you will use in all topics it is just highlighted in this
session as a practical way for you to further develop the skill within an MNH context. You can choose
to focus on a particular skill or a particular topic or both just remember they are interchangeable!
The sessions of the Handbook follow a similar format:
What is in this session?

An overview of the session content is provided.

What skills will I develop?

This indicates the counselling skills to be developed.

What am I going to learn?

Here we state the objectives of the session. You can see what
you will learn and also use this information to measure your
understanding of the content and your skills in counselling for MNH.


This is the main content of the session. Headings and

subheadings are used to help you find your way around.

Sometimes you will find text that is contained in
a box like this. Boxes are used to summarize key
information or to provide an example.


Activities are designed to help you order your thoughts and

reflect on your experiences. Some activities help you to improve
your counselling skills or to facilitate sharing information or skills
with your colleagues. These activities often involve practical

Our View:

This provides additional information to help you assess what

you have learned through the activity.

What did I learn?

Enables you to:

check if you have met the objectives of the session
reflect on what you have learned and how you might use it
in your work
decide whether you are ready to move on to the next session
or if you should review the material.
A Handbook for Building Skills | 7

Session 1

Can the Handbook be used in different ways?

The Handbook is designed primarily to be used by groups with a facilitator. The facilitator will take
you through the sessions and will help to organize activities and assess your progress. Your facilitator
may even organize additional materials, activities and discussions. However, it is also possible for
groups or individuals without a facilitator to work through the Handbook. You and your programme
should decide what works best for you and others, given available resources.
Whether working with a facilitator or alone, you do not need to work through the Handbook from
start to finish. The Handbook is designed to be flexible for the use of people with various skills and
needs. If you already have counselling skills and experience, you may want to focus on the topics in
Part 3. If you are new to the field, you may prefer to work through each session. There is no right or
wrong way to use the Handbook!
The Handbook provides a self-directed learning approach to counselling, which is open and flexible
to meet the different needs of different users. Self-directed learning allows individual users or groups
of users to work through the material at their own pace. It allows them to see how the information
fits within the context of their social, cultural and working environment. All users are encouraged to
critically reflect on their past and current practice to help them develop and improve their counselling
skills. Information, ideas and activities are provided, but the key to self-directed learning is putting the
skills and knowledge into practice in the work environment.

Role of the facilitator

Facilitators should be familiar with the content of the Handbook, and ideally have additional counselling
experience. The key role of the facilitator is to review the material in the Handbook in advance, and
to work out with the group how best to work through the content of the Handbook. It could be simply
getting members of the group to work through the Handbook, or it could be through the use of case
studies or additional material or presentations. The facilitators role is to support the group members in
seeking answers to questions and facilitate the different activities and discussions. For certain activities
we have included suggestions for the facilitator about how to organize the group.
The facilitator should take time to assess what the group members current knowledge is for each
session. This can be done through a group discussion before beginning a new session. For example,
during this discussion the facilitator can draw up two lists, one which lists what the group members
know already, and another which identifies gaps or areas where they need more information or
opportunities to build skills. These lists can also be used to measure progress and understanding by
checking that the group has covered the gaps that they identified. The facilitator should try not to
act solely as a knowledge resource. For example, if a group member has a question, the facilitator
should see whether someone else in the group can answer or help to facilitate the group in finding
the answer or reaching a conclusion.
Facilitators can add in other activities where they feel the group would benefit from more opportunities
to practise and build skills. The facilitator can support group members in applying the skills to the
8 | Counselling for MNH


Think about the advantages of working in a

group or working alone.

every day work environment by sitting in on counselling sessions with women, or discussing with the
group real situations which the service has faced. The facilitator is also responsible for organizing
how and when the group works. Another role for the facilitator is to work with the members in
reviewing the material in the Handbook to make sure they understand it. The use of the What did I
learn? sections in each session can be expanded to include a brainstorm of the key points covered
as well as a general discussion. This can then be measured against the objectives which were set
for the session, to see what has been learned and whether all the information has been understood.
One other role that the facilitator should fulfil is one of motivation. They should encourage and support
the members of the group to work through the Handbook and to help them stay on track and stay
motivated to complete the activities and sessions.

Working in groups or alone

All the activities in this Handbook are designed so that you can do them in a group or alone. If a
facilitator is working with you and others to go through the book, you can decide together if there
are any activities which you would prefer to do alone. Primarily you should try and complete the
activities in a group. If there is no facilitator and you and others decide to work together in a group,
it is recommended that you have one person act as a facilitator, not just for the activities but for the
whole session. You could rotate this job so that different group members take on the role of facilitator
for different sessions or different activities.

Working as a group
The first job for the facilitator is to help you decide how and when you will work together as a
group. You may find that you gain more from the activity if you work with others as you share ideas,
thoughts, skills and experience: your facilitator will help you in this sharing process. You will also
A Handbook for Building Skills | 9

Session 1

benefit from shared motivation and support from both your facilitator and the other group members.
The disadvantage of working in a group is that you may be rushed or held back by other people,
or you may find it difficult to make a time convenient for you all. By being aware of the possible
disadvantages in advance you can try to plan for them and work out with the facilitator how you can
get around them.

Working on your own

If it is not possible to work in a group with a facilitator then you can still use the Handbook on your
own. There are some advantages in working on your own. As you can go at your own pace, you will
not be rushed or held back by others. You can also focus on the areas most relevant to your needs.
The disadvantage is that you cannot learn and share from other peoples experience, knowledge and
skills. You cannot share the workload or practise the role-plays! You may also have less support and
motivation to work through the book. Think about these disadvantages now and make some notes
about possible ways to get around them.

Motivation and support

Your facilitator will help to motivate the group members to work through the book together. However,
it is important to motivate yourself to work through the Handbook (even if you have a facilitator). One
way to motivate yourself is to think about the benefits to you personally and to your work (think back
to Activity 1). There may be other important motivators such as expanding your skills, or improving
your career development.
Your facilitator will also help you to think about what support you need to work through this Handbook.
You may need support for motivation and encouragement, or you may need support to help you
reorganize your time or duties. Raise these issues with your facilitator and work together to identify
possible solutions. For those working in groups, your facilitator may provide all the personal support
you need, or you may need additional personal support from your supervisor or colleagues. From
time to time, as a group, and individually, review whether your support needs are continuing to be
If you are working on your own, consider trying to identify someone to act as a supervisor or mentor
who can provide advice and guidance. Ideally this person should have experience in the subject
area. You might consider your supervisor or another team member or even someone from another
discipline who has counselling skills such as a social worker or specialist counsellor.

What other resources do you need?

reading materials
other reference materials on MNH like the PCNPC
paper and pens
flipcharts or board
anything else?

10 | Counselling for MNH


Keeping a notebook
You may find it useful to make notes as you work through the Handbook. These will provide a record
of the work you have done to which you can refer later. It is useful to keep your notes in one place,
preferably in a notebook or loose-leaf file. These notes can be used in many ways, for example:
to record the work you do for the activities
to record your thoughts and ideas as you work through the Handbook or as you counsel women
and their families
to record case studies of women you counsel
to record feedback from women, their partners and families on your counselling
to record feedback from colleagues or your facilitator on your counselling
to record questions that you want to ask your colleagues or mentor
to record your feelings or emotions; particularly when you have been counselling in a difficult
situation or facing a difficult problem.
Finally you can use your notebook to answer the questions from the What did I learn? sections at the
end of each session, and from the progress checks and self-assessment at the end of the Handbook.
You may wish to take some time now to organize your notebook before you continue working through
the Handbook. Consider adding in any notes or questions that you have thought of so far, and then
continue to use this notebook for the rest of this and subsequent sessions.

Activity 2
20 minutes

To help you familiarize yourself

with the Handbook and the
counselling skills covered

Taking some time to look through the Handbook now will help you to see how the knowledge
and skills you already have can be further developed. Write down in your notebook your
thoughts in response to the following:
Note to facilitator: group members can focus on different sections of the Handbook or you
can get the whole group to do every session. Get the group to discuss their thoughts and use
this as a basis for planning together how you will work as a group.
1. Look at each session of the Handbook. Focus on the sections What is in this session?,
What am I going to learn? and What skills will I develop?
2. Write down the name and number of those sessions that will be most useful to you and the
reason why you think they will be most useful.
3. Make a list of the skills you are most keen to develop.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 11

Session 1

Activity 2 continued...

Our View
This activity should have helped you to be more familiar with the content of the Handbook
and be more focused about how it can best be used to meet your needs and develop your
counselling skills. Refer back to the skills you have listed here in your notebook from time
to time to see if the Handbook is helping you to develop them.

What did I learn?

In this session you have reviewed the aim and objectives of the Handbook and you have
familiarized yourself with the layout and content of the Handbook. Use the following questions
to help you reflect on what you have covered.
What is this Handbook about?
Why do I want to work through this Handbook?
What are my expectations for using this Handbook?
Which sessions am I going to concentrate on using?
How will I work through the Handbook with my group and my facilitator? Or how will I
work through the Handbook on my own?
Do I need to ask someone to be a supervisor or mentor to help me improve my counselling
or to provide me with additional support?
What resources do I need?
What else do I need to do or prepare before I am ready to move on to the next session?
Write down your thoughts in your notebook so that you can find them easily. You may find it
useful to review them from time to time to keep you focused and motivated.

12 | Counselling for MNH

A Handbook for Building Skills



Part 2: Counselling




Session 2

What is in this session?

This session provides an overview of the process of counselling for maternal and newborn health
and looks at the six key steps of this process. It also explores the guiding principles which lay the
foundation for improved counselling for MNH.

Counselling is used in many different ways. In this Handbook we define counselling for
maternal and newborn health as an interactive process between the skilled attendant/
health worker and a woman and her family during which information is exchanged and
support is provided so that the woman and her family can make decisions, design a plan
and take action to improve their health.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Understand your current knowledge about counselling
2. Define and describe the counselling process
3. Outline the guiding principles of good counselling

What do I already know about counselling for maternal and

newborn health?

Activity 1
30 minutes

An opportunity to reflect on
your experience of counselling
in MNH

Even if you have no formal training in counselling for MNH, you probably have experience
of counselling in your work. Thinking about your past experience will help to re-orient and refamiliarize yourself with the topic.
Note to facilitator: Get group members to carry out this activity alone before discussing
findings as a group.
1. What does the word counselling mean to you? Write down some key words that come
to mind when you hear the word counselling.

16 | Counselling for MNH


Activity 1 continued...
1. Look at the words you have written. Use them to come up with some examples of counselling
in MNH that you have done already.

Our View
If we refer to the definition of counselling for MNH on the previous page we come up with
a number of key words. Counselling for maternal and newborn health is an interactive
process between the skilled attendant/health worker and a woman and her family
during which information is exchanged and support is provided so that the woman and
her family can make decisions, design a plan and take action to improve their health.
The words in italics are some of the key words that we drew out of our definition. Did you
come up with similar words or similar concepts? If you did not, take some time to reflect
on the definition we have and discuss this with others in your group. Consider why the
definitions are different. As you look through the key words you can probably remember
times where you have listened, or shared information, supported or helped women and
their families make decisions and take action. At the very least you will have provided the
woman with information. All these are part of counselling for MNH.

This Handbook will help you build on what you already know and your experience to help you
improve your maternal and newborn health counselling skills.

The Counselling process

The diagram on the next page provides an overview of the counselling process. The main focus of
this Handbook is for you to follow the counselling process (the top semi-circle), but to do this you need
to understand the counselling context (the outer circle), the guiding principles and counselling skills
(the bottom semi-circle). The counselling process takes place within a counselling context, which is
why the counselling context is in the outer circle. It is important to be familiar with the context as this
will give you guidance on how to act, what is appropriate and the situation, culture and norms of
the women and families you are counselling. There are a number of guiding principles which support
the counselling process. You need to adopt these guiding principles to strengthen your counselling
skills. By focusing on the guiding principles and the counselling skills you will be able to improve your
counselling for MNH skills, and follow the counselling process.
In this session we will provide more detail on the key steps of the process and principles which
support good counselling. We will work with you throughout the Handbook to review in more detail
these skills and to help you to better understand the context within which you provide counselling.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 17

Session 2

This diagram will be used at the start of every session in Part 3 of the Handbook. It will always have
the 6 key steps of the counselling process outlined to help you remember what they are. Under the other
headings (Guiding Principles and Counselling Skills) only the points which are being focused on in that
session will be highlighted in the diagram. This way a quick preview of the diagram at the start of each
session will help you see which areas of counselling for MNH the session is going to focus on.
How familiar are you already with the six steps in the counselling process? You may already be carrying
out all or some of these steps, or perhaps this process for counselling for MNH is new to you.

18 | Counselling for MNH


The box below provides more information on the six key steps of the counselling process:
1. Assess the situation engage the woman in interactive discussion. Ask questions to
better understand the situation of the woman and her individual needs. You need to
clarify what the situation is, and if it poses a problem and for whom (the woman, her
partner, family, community, health worker etc.).
2. Define problems, needs and information gaps review with the woman what it is
about her situation that prevents her and her family from addressing her needs or
those of her newborn. What makes the situation a problem, what are the causes
of the problem? What does the woman know already does she need additional
3. Generate alternative solutions review with the woman or couple how she/they and
the family can better address their needs by looking at what is currently being done,
and what else could be done. Identify what other information, resources or support
is needed.
4. Prioritize solutions by reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of the various
alternatives, work out with the woman which of the alternatives are most feasible to
address the problem and/or meet the womans and familys needs. Assist the woman
or couple to work out how to overcome potential disadvantages.
5. Develop a plan make a plan together, including how to discuss the problem and
solution with her partner and with others in the household.
6. Review and evaluate in subsequent counselling sessions review implementation
of the plan with the woman. Is the plan working or should another alternative be

Activity 2
40 minutes

To help you become more familiar

with the six key steps in counselling
for maternal and newborn health.

For this activity we are not going to use an MNH topic because the aim is to help you become
more familiar with the process, and to assess why we carry out these six steps as part of the
process. The activity you will carry out is to make some tea or other drink or snack. Two people
will make the drink/snack. It sounds simple but, one of these people will have to wear a
blindfold so they cannot see and the other will have their hands tied behind their back.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 19

Session 2

Activity 2 continued...
Note: If you are working alone you will need to find two people at work or home who will
make the drink.
Now work through the six steps of the counselling process. First assess the situation. You
have to start a discussion with the two drink makers. What is it like for them to have
their hands tied or not to see? How does it make them feel? It is important to get their
perspective, and not just anticipate what you think it might be like. They may tell you
something you have not seen or thought of. How are their needs different?
Define problems, needs and information gaps. Do they know how to make the drink?
Do they have all the things they need to make it? What aspects of making the drink are
problematic for them? How is it different for each person?
Generate alternative solutions. Can the two drink makers manage on their own to make
the drink or do they need help from you? If so, what help? Can they work together? What
options do they have? For example, the one with the hands tied could give directions to
the one who is blindfolded. Will they be able to do the whole process themselves? Will
they need additional help from you, e.g. when pouring the drink?
Prioritize the solutions. Decide which of the alternatives that you came up with best meets
the drink makers needs. Do this by asking them which they are most comfortable with?
Will they need to try more than one approach? Do not take the decision for them!
Make a plan together. Work out all the different tasks that need to be done to make the
drink or snack. Break them down into small parts. Go through each stage with them. Then
support them as they carry out the task of preparing or making the snack/drink.
Review and evaluate. Ask for feedback from the people who made the drink? How did
they find the process? If they were to repeat the task, what would they do differently?
Or how could it be improved? Do they need any additional support or help? Were they
confident before making the drink that they could do it?
As a group discuss the activity. Who was in control? Who made the decisions? Get
feedback from the two drink makers as to how they felt about the way you facilitated the

Our View
Although this seemed like a simple task to complete, each of the people making the
drink/snack had particular needs which were different. They probably had different
needs in terms of the support, advice and help that they required or even the information
they needed. Did you encourage and allow them to participate as much as they wanted
to in the process? Or was control taken away from them? What could have been done
differently or improved upon?

20 | Counselling for MNH


This activity was also trying to demonstrate to you the importance of facilitation in the counselling
process. As a counsellor you should be facilitating the process, but you should not be taking control
or carrying out the task or decisions for the person you are counselling. Consider how you raise a
child. At first with a newborn baby, you have to meet all their needs. As they grow and develop new
skills and knowledge you can reduce the amount that you do. What would happen if you continued
to do everything for them? If we take control, then we do not share knowledge or skills, and the
child cannot learn how to act for him or herself. The same is true in counselling. We need to provide
support in assessing the specific needs of the person we are working with, we have to support them to
assess the skills and knowledge they already have and then work with them to come up with options
they could use to solve their problems. We can give support and guidance but we cannot make the
decisions for them.

The guiding principles of counselling for maternal and newborn

As previously discussed, there are a number of guiding principles which underpin the six key steps in
the counselling process. In order to be able to effectively utilize these six steps you need to understand
the foundation. We call this foundation on which the key steps in the counselling process are based,
the guiding principles. If you follow these principles it will help you to put the six steps into action
more effectively. In addition, an understanding of these principles is needed before you can begin to
strengthen your counselling skills.

It is important to think about your own attitudes,
beliefs and values and how these might impact
on the way you interact with people or the service
you provide. For example, your religious or social
beliefs might lead you to treat some women
differently or unfairly if you do not agree with how
they live their lives. The pressure of work or the
home or frustration with certain situations might
lead you to be rude or aggressive (either verbally
or physically) towards women, their partners
or families. Taking time to understand yourself
and your emotions, beliefs and attitudes is very
important if you are to be able to understand the
people that you will counsel.

What should I do?

At the end of each session of this Handbook in the

What did I learn? section, there are questions to
help you practise self-reflection. You can also use
your notebook to write down different experiences
and reflect on your feelings, beliefs and attitudes
when counselling women and their families.
A Handbook for Building Skills | 21

Session 2

Self-reflection is about being aware of who you are and analysing how your thoughts,
attitudes and beliefs might influence the way you support, communicate and counsel
women and their families. It is about knowing your own limitations and what you are
usually most comfortable with. You need to critically reflect on who you are and how you
act and the impact this may have on others. Decide whether you need to change and
what you can change.

Empathy and respect

Counselling for MNH relies on you respecting the knowledge and skills of the person you are
counselling and understanding the situation from their point of view, and empathizing with them.
Empathy means trying to understand the situation the woman or family is in and how this may be
affecting them; this is why understanding the context in which counselling takes place is so important.
For example, a woman may tell you she can not make a decision about staying in the health facility
until she gets permission from her husband and mother-in-law. You may not agree with this, but by
empathizing with her you can support her to get the permission she needs.
Respect is about valuing peoples knowledge and decisions, and treating them with regard and
esteem. It can be helpful to think about treating people in the same way as you would like to be
treated if you were in the same situation. If people are treated with respect, courtesy and friendliness,
they are more likely to be satisfied with the services offered to them. They will also be more likely to
participate in the counselling process and in return, value the skills that you have.
Respecting someone also means maintaining a non-judgemental attitude. In other words even if you
do not agree with the actions a woman is taking or has taken you should treat her with respect and
not condemn her or tell her she is wrong.
Respect also involves maintaining the confidentiality of the woman. This means that you should not
talk about private or personal issues where you can be overheard. You should make sure she cannot
be seen by other people when you examine her, and you should make sure that her notes are kept
safely where they cannot be seen by others. You need to find out who she wants to share information
with before you disclose information about her.

All staff should treat people well, not just those involved in treatment and counselling. For
example, the receptionist, the cleaning staff and even the guard must all be trained to
respect women and their families.

22 | Counselling for MNH


Encouraging interaction
Encouraging interaction is about engaging the woman in discussion. Good counselling requires
an interactive process, which allows for the two-way sharing and exchange of information and for
involving and engaging the woman to participate in the session. It also means being able to debate,
argue, clarify and discuss issues.
How can you encourage interaction in the counselling process?
Get to know the womans situation; encourage her to tell her story.
Allow time for the woman to think about and answer your questions.
Encourage questions from her.
Review information together.
Be friendly and non-judgemental.
Ask questions so that you can better understand her situation and needs.
Do you have some other ideas to add?

Building on current knowledge and skills

In any interaction with a woman or her family you need to assess their current knowledge and
skills before providing any further information, advice or skills building. Research has shown us that
people learn best when they can build upon what they already know and understand. This is not
a passive process, you have to allow them to question, discuss and integrate new ideas with their
existing knowledge base. Together you can create new knowledge, by this we mean discussing
what the woman knows, presenting any new knowledge you may have that may differ, allowing her
to question and analyse the differences. Out of this discussion you will have a combination of the
information you both have each will have learned from the other. She may not agree with all you
have to say and she may choose not to accept some of what you discuss. She may need more time
to reflect on the discussion and how her knowledge has changed. What is important is not only to
discuss knowledge but also to make sure that she can apply the information to her context or situation.

Shared problem-solving
There are many problems to be solved and decisions to be made by a woman, her partner and
family and even by the broader community in relation to MNH. When counselling is done well, you
work as a facilitator to help the woman clarify her needs, identify possible solutions, take decisions
and make an action plan. You do not dictate, direct or impose solutions on her.
As we talked above about developing new shared knowledge, shared problem-solving is about
exploring a range of options with a woman and her partner or family as part of the counselling
process. An example of shared problem-solving might include you coming up with some possible
solutions and the woman or couple coming up with some of their own. Together you can go through
each of the solutions one by one looking at the advantages and disadvantages. You may need to
provide more information at this point and equally they will provide you with information about their
personal needs and situation which will affect their options. You can support them in arriving at a
solution which is the most acceptable to them.
A Handbook for Building Skills | 23

Session 2

Sharing the problem-solving process with the woman and her family and facilitating the decisionmaking process may be a new way of working for you. Clinical practice and health care is often
directive, and normally women are expected to comply with decisions and advice that the health
worker provides for them. Many women will even expect that from you. But working in this way does
not contribute to the development of their skills or knowledge to improve MNH; nor is it likely that they
will implement the decisions you have made for them. When a woman and her family participate in
finding the solutions, it is more likely that they will follow the plan you develop together. It can help
them feel they have more control over their own choices and decisions, and can also help them to
see how they can change the direction of their lives by taking increased control and responsibility for
decisions and consequences.

Tailoring to her specific needs

Counselling is not something, like immunization, that can be done in the same way for everyone.
You cannot ask the same questions and expect the same answers or the same point of view. Each
woman you are counselling has to be treated on an individual basis. Each woman, couple or family
has different personal situations, beliefs, expectations and needs. They also have different knowledge
and skills. Think back to the different needs that the two people in Activity 2 had, even though they
were involved in the same task.
In order for your session to be effective, you need to provide information which is relevant to their
specific situation and discuss pertinent alternatives and preferences. Some women have special
needs which require additional time and input in the counselling process.

There are many different groups of women with special needs.

24 | Counselling for MNH


Women with special needs

Within every community that you work with there are women who have special needs. Special
needs can range from illness and disability, to women living on their own or in extreme poverty, or
to adolescents. It is difficult to characterise someone with special needs; some women may cope
better in particular circumstances than others. When you counsel women and explore the context
of their lives, it will help you to understand their mental and emotional health in addition to any
physical problems they may have. The purpose of counselling is to identify whether the woman needs
additional support and care.

A special need refers to the additional requirements that women may have in order to
address their emotional and physical well-being.

While you are dealing with a woman who has special needs it is important to demonstrate your
support and willingness to listen to her. Her special needs are part of her everyday life and experience
and cannot be avoided in the counselling interaction. It may be that you need to refer her for
specialist counselling, but while you are waiting to do this, or if there is no one for you to refer her
to, your interaction with her can be extremely important in helping her take decisions regarding her
pregnancy, birth and during the postpartum period. Women with special needs may often need
additional time and sessions for counselling.
There are many different groups of women with special needs. There is not enough room in the
Handbook to explore all these groups. Women living with violence and women who are HIV-positive
are two groups of women with special needs who are looked at in more depth in Part 3 of the
Handbook. Two other groups of women that you may come across are women with disabilities and

Women with disabilities

Women with disabilities are often discriminated against. Their problems are often compounded
because they tend to be poor. One problem which they face is low self-esteem. Women with disabilities
are often thought of as being worthless and not able to contribute anything to the community. It is
important to assess women with disabilities early on in pregnancy to identify any potential problems
arising from their disability. Work with each woman to assess her problems and the potential solutions
on an individual basis or with her family if she desires. It is especially important to support women
with disabilities to solve their own problems as part of the process of raising their self-esteem and
encouraging them to take more control over their own lives. Encourage them to focus on what they
can do, not what they cannot do. Try to remember that women with disabilities also need counselling
around sexuality issues. They may be shy about discussing such things and will need special support.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 25

Session 2

Special needs of adolescents

Adolescents are a special group because although they may be sexually mature and sexually active they
may still be developing emotionally. This is a particularly important group because many adolescents
in your community will be sexually active and may already be mothers. Adolescents are more likely
to perceive attitudes of health care providers to be threatening and thus they will be reluctant to come
to you for care. They may also be concerned about confidentiality especially if you are in a small
community. They will need extra reassurance to feel more comfortable in a counselling environment.
Adolescents are often embarrassed to discuss issues relating to sexual health (even if they are sexually
active). You need to help them feel comfortable and encourage questions. The emotions that adolescents
may experience (embarrassment, fear, and anxiety) are often expressed in different ways. For example,
they may giggle, or they may be aggressive or non-communicative. You can help overcome these
difficulties by focusing on the self-esteem of the adolescent. By treating them with respect and assuring
confidentiality they may feel more comfortable with the situation.
Some health workers show their disapproval of adolescents being sexually active when an adolescent
attends antenatal care. This may be related to a communitys disapproval of sexual activity among
adolescents. This may result in the health care providers not giving adolescents adequate counselling
so as not to acknowledge or suggest approval of their sexual activity. Sadly this may mean that the
adolescent girl never learns more about preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or avoiding
unplanned pregnancy. By taking some time to self-reflect (one of the guiding principles) on how you
feel about adolescents being sexually active, you may be able to gain some insight into your own
attitudes. You can then consider ways in which you can be more open to discussing sexuality issues
with adolescents, in such a way that they are provided with support and given information which helps
them to take decisions to improve their health.

Women living with violence

Violence against women by their intimate partners affects womens physical and mental health including
reproductive health. Violence does not just cause physical injury but can cause low self-esteem, anxiety,
mental health problems, destructive behaviour such as alcohol or drug use, and sexual health problems
(STIs, unwanted pregnancy and fear of sex). Session 16 covers in more detail issues affecting women
who experience intimate partner violence.

Women who are infected with HIV

Women who are infected with HIV and who know their status have special counselling needs. Many
women find out about their status during the course of antenatal care. On the practical side they need
to know how to care for themselves and how to maintain good health with advice on diet and rest.
They also need information on how to prevent transmission of HIV to their baby and safe infant feeding
practices (see Sessions 14 and 13). They may also need information to avoid infecting their partner
and to prevent re-infection with HIV. In addition they will need emotional support to help them cope
with living with an illness for which there is considerable stigma and discrimination. They may also
need support and advice about disclosing their status. Session 14 covers many of these issues affecting
women with HIV.
26 | Counselling for MNH


What did I learn?

There was a lot of information in this session which helped you to examine the key steps
and principles of counselling as defined in this Handbook. Take a minute to think about the
content of this session and how much you have understood. Does this information differ from
information you had previously about counselling?
The following questions may help this process of reflection:
How would you define counselling for MNH? What do you think of our definition?
Could you explain counselling for MNH to someone else?
What are the six key steps in counselling?
What are some of the guiding principles of counselling?
How many of the principles were you already familiar with?
How many of these principles do you already practise?
Which will be difficult to put into practice? How will you address these difficulties?
In summary, counselling for MNH is about facilitating the provision of information, advice and
support to help people (women, their families and communities) to make their own decisions
and take the actions needed to improve the health of the woman and the newborn counselling
is not about persuading or obliging people to act in certain ways!
If you feel that you have an understanding of counselling as it is used in this Handbook, then
you are ready to move on to looking at some of the key skills of counselling for MNH that you
need to develop or build upon.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 27

Part 2: Counselling



Session 3

What is in this session?

This section of the Handbook briefly describes the key skills that are needed for counselling in MNH:
two-way communication
forming an alliance
active listening
open questioning
providing information
In Part 3 of this Handbook, the different sessions will provide more practical information on each of
the skills in the context of a maternal and newborn health topic, and provide you with activities so
you can strengthen your skills. As you read through this section, you will notice that the different skills
are linked to each other and also linked to the principles that you learned about in the last session.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Describe the key skills of counselling for maternal and newborn health
2. Outline the elements of each of these skills
3. Make a plan of how to put these skills into practice.

Two-way communication
Good communication is central to good counselling. Many of the principles of counselling that you
looked at in the last session are actually part of a foundation for good communication. Similarly
if you refer back to the diagram in Session 2 page 18 you will see under counselling skills that
active listening, open questioning, providing information and facilitation are all elements of effective
communication. Before examining these in more depth we want to explore some general points about
good communication, and to stress the importance of two-way communication.
Communication involves the exchange of information and is most productive when it is a two-way
process which offers an opportunity for each of the parties involved to clarify issues, provide feedback
and discuss topics. This is particularly true where you have to provide complex information, or have
to have a sensitive discussion. In these cases two-way communication and interaction is needed. It is
not enough to simply provide the woman with information or give instructions.
Effective communication is essential to good counselling, but we can make an important distinction
between one-way and two-way communication (see diagram). For example, there are times in MNH
when we simply provide and discuss information with the woman, such as what to bring to the

30 | Counselling for MNH

Counselling Skills



One-Way Communication



Two-Way Communication

hospital for the birth. This is an example of one-way communication. However, when we want to
support women and their families to apply and use this information, then we are involved in the
process of counselling, for example, facilitating the decision as to where to give birth, and thinking
about how to get there through a two-way discussion of options.
Many of the skills we discuss for good counselling are also important to good communication. This
includes not just the language we use; it also involves gestures and body language, active listening
and the demonstration of warmth and care. So it is important to be aware of the non-verbal messages
we send (such as showing respect) not only through our words, but also through our gestures and our
body language.

Forming an alliance
The counsellors first communication task is to build
an alliance, or a partnership, with the woman and, if
present, her partner or family. This alliance serves as
the foundation that encourages the woman to actively
participate in the session. It is important that the woman
knows that you are here to support her and that you
have her best interest in mind. Applying the principles
presented in Session 2 will help to establish the trusting
and caring environment needed for her to feel that she
can enter into this alliance. In a trusting and caring
environment the woman is more likely to be at ease
to talk about her situation and needs, and to discuss
sensitive topics.

Forming an alliance allows for the two-way

sharing and exchange of information.
A Handbook for Building Skills | 31

Session 3

You can help form an alliance with a woman by identifying similarities between yourselves
e.g. in terms of age, in parity, where you come from or likes and dislikes. By starting
your interaction by sharing information about one another you help to put the woman
at ease and engage her in interactive discussion on topics she is comfortable with. This
will help her to be more relaxed when you enter your counselling discussion about her
problems and needs; and will help her to ask you questions, and to share her important
information with you.

Demonstrating active listening

Listening is more than just hearing someone elses words; it involves being attentive and demonstrating
that you have heard and understood what is being communicated to you.
Demonstrating that you really are listening will increase the womans trust and confidence in you as a
counsellor, and will make her feel more at ease thus helping to form an alliance. Demonstrating that
you have heard and understood what has been said to you can be done by paraphrasing, whereby
you repeat back what has been said to you using different words. Consider this example:

My husband does not approve of the use of family planning methods. He gets
very angry whenever they are mentioned.

Health worker:

And here we are discussing contraceptive methods. I can imagine that you must
be concerned about how you can talk to your husband about this.

The next step will then be to work with her to identify possible options and solutions for the woman to
communicate with her husband. As said above, it is important the counsellor does not tell the woman
how to solve the problem or suggest solutions for her, but together through a process of facilitation and
two-way communication they should try and arrive at the best solution for the woman. The counsellor
can then support the woman to carry out this solution.
Body language and gestures are also an important part of active listening. Non-verbal cues may
encourage or deter the woman from sharing important information with you.


What is the most important factor in effective communication?
Body language
Tone of voice
Words used
Source: Population Council. A client-centered approach to reproductive health.

A trainers manual. Islamabad, Pakistan, 2005.

32 | Counselling for MNH

Counselling Skills

Be aware of your body language and

remember to make eye contact.

How can you show active listening?

Reduce distractions by switching off telephones and closing doors and windows
Make sure everyone is seated as comfortably as possible, and at the same level
If appropriate, look at the woman as you talk
Use a warm tone of voice
Use gestures and body language such as nodding your head and smiling
Use verbal affirmation such as saying yes, ok, I see
Ask questions pertinent to what she has told you to clarify your understanding
Repeat back (paraphrase) what she has said to you
Summarize key points of the discussion.

Activity 1
40 minutes

To help you improve your

active listening skills.

If you are working alone, you will need to find two other people to help you with this activity. In
your group organize yourselves into groups of three a counsellor, a woman and an observer.
1. The person playing the woman should take five minutes to make up a situation about a
maternal and newborn health problem. For example, a pregnant woman who wants to
give birth with a skilled attendant but her family insists she give birth at home unattended,
as they have done for many generations. Write down some notes to help you remember
your story.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 33

Session 3

Activity 1 continued...
2. Two of you should play the role of the counsellor and the woman with the observer
watching. If you are playing the counsellor try and show active listening skills through the
use of body language, gestures, sounds and repeating back what has been said to you.
3. The observer should try and look for two or three examples of things the counsellor did
which demonstrated active listening (use the list on the previous page). The observer should
provide comments on any aspects the counsellor could improve upon. For example, did
the counsellors body language match their verbal language? Was the woman allowed to
reach her own decisions or was she told what to do? Did the woman have the freedom to
explore her feelings or did the counsellor block this in any way?
4. The woman should also describe how she felt during the role-play. Did she feel relaxed
and comfortable expressing her opinions? Was she encouraged to ask questions? Did she
feel involved in the decision-making process?
5. Change roles (and the story for the role-play) so that you each have a turn in each role.

Our View
You were probably very aware of showing that you were listening and so you were
focused on what was being said to you. Do you normally listen this well? Keep practising
your active listening skills so that they become more natural and easy to do.

Asking questions
Many of the skills and principles of counselling depend on your skill in asking questions. This is not as
easy as it may seem. There are many different types of questions and ways to ask questions so that
you do not make the woman feel uncomfortable. We will discuss four types of questioning that are
helpful, and one that should be avoided.
Often in counselling we use open-ended questions, such as How have you been feeling since the
birth?, Tell me about your last pregnancy, What happened when you tried to discuss going to the
health facility? Open-ended questions are ones which can have many possible answers. They are
useful when you are trying to encourage the woman to talk about her situation and to explore her
emotions, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and specific needs. Open-ended questions will also
help you acquire more information about her situation, about decisions she has made and help you
to get feedback from her as to how she feels about the services you are providing. These can be
used at any time during the interview but are often very helpful when used early on to gather as much
information as possible.
Closed questions such as How old are you? or Are you married? are questions where there is a
definitive answer such as yes or no. Sometimes they are useful in counselling to get information
about the womans situation, her medical history for example, or to ascertain whether you have been
understood. As a general rule, in counselling you will tend to use open ended-questions far more than
closed questions.
34 | Counselling for MNH

Counselling Skills

Sometimes if people are hesitant to respond to the questions you ask, you need to think of prompts or
ways to encourage them to open up to you. Many women are not used to a health worker listening
to them or wanting to know more about their situation. For example, if you asked a woman How
have you been since the baby was born? and she does not answer or says fine, you could prompt
by saying How are you coping? or Are you getting some help from others?
Indirect questions are often asked to cover sensitive subject matters, such as domestic abuse, or issues
related to abortion. For example: How did you receive this bruise?
Suggestive questions should not be used in a counselling context, as these lead or force the woman
or her family into an answer they may not have ordinarily given you. Examples are: Was it your
husband who told you not to come to the health centre today? or Did your husband hit you? You
may have even experienced this type of questioning yourself.
It is equally important to make sure that you ask questions in a non-judgemental way, which is
supportive. Consider the examples below. Can you see that health worker B is more supportive and
A: Health Worker:

Why didnt you come to the antenatal clinic as soon as you knew you were

B: Health Worker:

It is good that you have come to the antenatal clinic now. Is there any reason
why you were not able to come before?

Asking questions fulfils a number of roles:

It identifies what is already known and reveals any information gaps.
It identifies specific needs.
It explores a particular situation/context including attitudes and beliefs.
It generates discussions and options for problem-solving.
It helps to understand the reasons behind decisions or actions.

Providing information
As a health worker you need to provide clear and understandable information, pertinent to the
woman, her family and their situation. Often, health workers routinely - because they are busy provide the same information in the same way to all the women they see. There may not be time to
allow the women to ask questions. Much of the information is then unused by the women, because
they do not understand or it does not correspond to their needs.
The more complex, difficult or unknown the subject, the more important it is to provide simple and
appropriate information. This allows the woman to ask questions to clarify, and share her thoughts,
so that then the woman with her family can take the decisions. Remember, with good questioning
skills you can find out what is already known so you only need to provide additional and relevant
information. You can also find out about beliefs and any misconceptions and explain why they may
be wrong as well as discuss different ideas. You should also use your questioning skills to make sure
that the information you provide is culturally appropriate, and relevant to the situation and context of
her life.
A Handbook for Building Skills | 35

Session 3

Finally, it is important to make sure that the information you provide has been understood. You can
ask if there is anything that needs further explanation or clarification, or sometimes you may wish to
ask the woman to repeat back in her own words what has been discussed.


Health Worker:
Health Worker:

Health Worker:

Health Worker:

Do you know how to take care for yourself in pregnancy?

Yes, I should rest more and eat more food.
You are right, that you should rest more, and that you may need to eat
more food, but you should also try to eat more of certain foods than
others. Do you know what foods they are?
Vegetables, meat.
Yes try to eat more meat and vegetables. But also try to make sure you
have fruits, beans, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk. Do you know why we
recommend you eat these foods?
To make the baby strong
Yes, they will help the baby to grow and keep you healthy during your
pregnancy. Is there anything else you want to ask me about what you
should be eating?

Facilitation is the word we give to the process of assisting problem-solving. Facilitation is about
assisting women and their families to find their own solutions, as well as supporting them to take the
action they need. Facilitation is something that you will do in differing amounts depending on the
knowledge and skills of the woman and her family (think back to Activity 2 in Session 2 where you
facilitated the process of making the drinks). For example, for some women, the situation they are
in can affect their problem-solving capacity and they may need a lot of help from you to facilitate
generating alternatives and finding a solution, whereas others may be clear about what they need
to do and just need your support. Your skill is in assessing how much facilitation is needed by an
individual, couple or family, and in what areas.

36 | Counselling for MNH

Counselling Skills

Learning when to stay back and when to offer help is an important counselling skill and is crucial
to the process of supporting a woman in making decisions and taking actions. It is important not to
force people into a particular problem-solving approach or to provide them with solutions that are not
appropriate for their needs. You facilitate a process in which the woman, couple or family explore
all the options that are open to them; then you continue to facilitate the decision-making process by
helping them assess the advantages and disadvantages of the options for their situation and needs.
Remember, in a counselling situation, if you make decisions for a woman then responsibility and
control is taken away from her and it may lead to greater dependency and feelings of inadequacy. It
is important that a woman is provided with the opportunity to think out her situation and try to resolve
her needs or those of her newborn. Often, to do this she will need to go home and discuss with her
family and friends, before making a final decision or plan which she can then act on.
One way to facilitate is to ask the woman, couple or family to list all the possible solutions that
they have identified. If you can think of others, you might suggest them to be added to the list of
alternatives, but do not push your ideas too strongly. Then explore each alternative one by one. Get
them to think about the advantages and disadvantages if appropriate you could even write this list
out for them. Ask questions to help them explore if there are any ways around the disadvantages.
Keep summarizing what they have discussed and feed this back to them so they can keep track of
where they are. Once they reach a decision, you can follow a similar process to help facilitate a plan
of action to carry out the decision.

Putting the methods into practice

You should now have a basic understanding of the different counselling skills. Take some time to think
about those which you particularly wish to strengthen. All the skills need practice for you to be really
able to use them. As you complete the remainder of the Handbook, activities have been provided
for you to practise each of these skills specifically. However, you may like to begin to use some of
these skills in your everyday work from now on. Use your notebook to reflect on your interactions with
women and their families and on your counselling skills. Pay particular attention to the areas where
you feel you need more practice or to areas you found difficult.
If you have time, in your group you might consider discussing a different case study each week, taken
from a different persons notebook. Discussing case studies can help clarify what worked well and
get feedback and support on areas which you can improve.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 37

Session 3

Activity 2
30 minutes

To review the different counselling

skills and to prioritize which skills
you need to focus on.

Group members should carry out this activity alone before discussing as a group.
In the first session you went through the Handbook and made a list of the skills you were most
keen to develop. Now that you have read in more detail about these skills, take some time to
review your list.
1. Do you want to add any skills to your list?
2. Re-write your list in terms of which skills you would like to prioritize, in other words which
skills do you feel you need to focus on first. Think about which skills you are good at, which
skills you feel you know least about, or which skills you have never practised to help you
prioritize your list.
3. Think about how you might be able to practise each skill. This could be in role-plays, or in
interactions either at work, or outside of work.

Our View
You have probably used all the different skills at one time or another. To improve your
ability to counsel for MNH you need to be able to use these skills consistently, every time
you interact with a woman, her partner or family. At first you may find that some skills
are difficult to practise or even to remember because you will be used to working in a
particular way. This is why it is important to have a list which you can refer to, and also to
think about all the different situations in which you can practise your skills. For example,
you can practise your active listening skills in any conversation. You can practise your
skill in forming an alliance every time you meet a new person on the bus, or in a social
setting. You can practise providing information with children at home or with colleagues.
If you take some time to think about it, you will find many opportunities outside of the
work you do in this Handbook to practise your counselling skills.

38 | Counselling for MNH

Counselling Skills

Self Reflection

Empathy and
Building Skills and


Forming an Alliance

Active Listening


Shared Problem-




Tailoring to Specific


The diagram above may look a little complicated at first sight but what it is trying to show you is how each
of the guiding principles feeds into the different counselling skills. So for example, if you follow the principle
of self-reflection this will help you with skills of two- way communication and forming an alliance.
If you have time, you might like to consider how each of the principles and skills feeds into the
different steps in the counselling process.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 39

Session 3

Activity 3
30 minutes

To review the different counselling

skills and to prioritize which skills
you need to focus on.

1. Using the diagram, take time to consider each guiding principle and each skill that it feeds
into. You may decide to add in some additional arrows. For example, you might consider
empathy and respect as being important for two-way communication.
2. Now write down an example for each relationship between the different guiding principles
and skills to demonstrate how they are linked. For example, self-reflection is important for
forming an alliance because being aware of your own attitudes, values and beliefs will
help you to be non-judgemental of others.
3. Are there any relationships between the guiding principles and the skills which you do not
understand? Try and discuss them in your group or with a colleague.

Our View
As mentioned, your foundation for good counselling skills and an improved counselling
process is an ability to practise the guiding principles of counselling. So for example, the
principle of encouraging interaction potentially feeds into all the skills but in particular,
forming an alliance, two-way communication, listening, and questioning. Improving
your understanding of how the guiding principles and skills are linked will improve your
overall ability to follow the six steps in the counselling process.

40 | Counselling for MNH

Counselling Skills

What did I learn?

You have focused on core skills for counselling in MNH. You have looked at how to use
two-way communication, how to form an alliance, as well as how to improve listening and
questioning skills. You have also looked at how to provide information and facilitate the
counselling process.
Progress check
The list below summarizes some different elements of the guiding principles, the key counselling
skills and the six steps in the counselling process we have outlined in the last two sessions.
Look through the list and see whether you can identify which of the principles, steps or skills the
element is referring to.

Elements of good counselling

Focus on the womans needs and knowledge

Assess the context of the problem with the woman
Actively listen and learn from her
Engage in interactive discussion
Utilize skilled ways of asking questions
Explore situations and beliefs
Do not be judgemental
Build trust
Explore options together
Facilitate problem-solving
Make a plan of action together
Encourage and reinforce actions
Evaluate together your plan of action.

You now have established the principles which support the six key steps in counselling for
MNH and you have reviewed and begun to practise some of the key skills. One final area that
needs to be covered which supports the key steps in counselling for MNH is an understanding
of the counselling context and environment. (If you remember, this constitutes the outer circle of
our counselling diagram in Session 2.)

A Handbook for Building Skills | 41

Part 2: Counselling




Session 4

What is in this session?

This session focuses on some of the different factors that can affect or influence counselling for MNH.
These include the larger social and cultural context, including socio-economic conditions, cultural and
social norms, gender roles, and household decision-making processes.
These diverse factors will impact upon your counselling session; therefore a deeper understanding of
their influence is required. This session also considers specific situations such as couple counselling,
and counselling on sensitive issues such as sexuality.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Explain the key contextual factors which have an impact on counselling for maternal and newborn
2. Analyse the effect these factors may have on the counselling relationship.
3. Explain the importance of couple counselling and counselling on sensitive issues.

The counselling context

The term counselling context does not refer here to the physical location where counselling takes place
(which we call the counselling environment) but relates to the social, cultural, economic, religious and
political factors of the place where you work, and the communities in which the people you will counsel,
live. This section examines how these different factors may influence the counselling context.
It is important for you to be aware of the different factors that have an effect on the counselling context
within the community you work. In the previous sessions we highlighted how important it is to assess
and understand the womans own knowledge, skills and individual situation. It is also important to
assess and understand the wider cultural and social context in which you work.

Economic conditions
Economic status refers to ones financial status and is strongly related to health and educational status.
So in general, most people with a low economic status (e.g. a low income) are also likely to have a
lower educational and health status.
On the other hand, those with a higher economic/financial status will have better access to education
and health services and will have higher status in these areas. It is important to take into account the
socio-economic status of a woman, couple or family because this status will affect the decisions they
have to make as well as the needs they have. For example, a woman who is poor may not have
money to attend a health facility (either for child care, transport or where she must pay user fees).
Similarly if a woman has a low educational status she may not appreciate the benefits of birth in a
health facility and her low health status may mean she is at higher risk of poor health outcomes for

44 | Counselling for MNH

Influential Factors

both her and her baby. Educational status is also related to literacy. You need to know the literacy
level of people that you counsel so that you do not give them complex advice or instructions in words
which are unfamiliar to them, materials that they cannot read, or forms which they are unable to
understand or complete.


Be aware that this may be a sensitive topic for some women.
Try open-ended questions as you try to form an alliance:
Id like to get to know you a little more; perhaps you can tell me something about
yourself and your home situation?
At other times you will have to be more direct e.g. What level of education did you
How does your household earn its income?
It can help you to form an alliance with the woman if you are open with her about why
you want to know this information. Tell her that knowing this type of information will help
you to tailor the service you provide to her specific needs.

Social and cultural context

Culture is a term we use to describe the values, beliefs, practices and ways in which a community
or society lives. It also includes the way the people express themselves, communicate, and interact
with one another. The social context refers to how people are organized, in terms of family groupings
(do they live in extended or nuclear /traditional families? or do husbands have several wives?) It
also refers to group interactions and hierarchies within communities. For example, are there group
leaders, chiefs, or headmen or women, and what role do they play? The cultural and social context
affects all aspects of life, from how people greet one another, to how they interact in the household
and how they make decisions.

Being aware of the social and cultural context will help you form an alliance with the
woman or couple you are counselling and will help you decide appropriate ways to
communicate in terms of how you ask questions, how you approach sensitive issues, and
how you facilitate the process of problem-solving. It will also enable you to tailor your
counselling to their specific needs.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 45

Session 4

Issues such as religion or social status affect peoples ideas or feelings and this can influence
communication and counselling. The cultural and social context can be expressed differently
depending on the setting such as the home, schools, the workplace, or the health service. Your
professional training took place within a particular perspective on health and you may feel it is the
most appropriate way of approaching health issues. Other communities and cultures have their own
ways of talking about health which may be different from yours. Thus it is important to reflect on what
these different beliefs and values are, as they will have an impact on the way in which you interact
with women and their families and the way they interact with you.
Pregnancy and birth are normally very social and cultural events and thus tied to many specific beliefs
and practices. In order to better support a pregnant woman and her family, it is important to know
these beliefs and practices. Some may be very good for the woman and her baby, others may not be
beneficial but also do no harm; you can build upon these beliefs and practices, and try to incorporate
them into your practice and service. Other beliefs and practices may cause harm. You will need to
discuss these with the women and her family and the broader community to see how they can be

Activity 1
1 to 2 hours

To assess whether local practices

in your community are helpful,
harmful or harmless for maternal
and newborn health.

Note to facilitator: You can divide the group into 3 smaller groups and have each group look
at a different aspects, e.g., one group looks at antenatal, another group looks at childbirth
and the third group looks at postnatal practices. Then bring them back together as one larger
group to discuss their findings.
Within different cultures or social systems there can be ceremonies or ways to mark important
events such as childbirth. For example, pregnant women may be expected to act or behave
in certain ways. They may be given medicines or special foods. There may be ceremonies or
activities to mark the arrival of the new baby, or practices carried out during labour and birth.
Understanding the context in which you are working and counselling is very important. This
activity looks at local practices to help you to assess some important aspects of your context.
Consider talking to women and community groups to help you answer these questions.
1. Write down in your notebook all the local practices and beliefs that you have come
across regarding pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum/postnatal period. Ask
women or groups if there are any other practices and beliefs you should add.

46 | Counselling for MNH

Influential Factors

Activity 1 continued...
2. For each one of the practices you have identified, consider whether it is good for the health
assess Organize
or harmful.
list of
of the woman and/or baby, if it is harmless To
under the three headings:

harmful or harmless for maternal

and newborn health.


You may need to find out more information to be able to make your classification.
A helpful practice is one that supports the advice and information that you give to women
(for example, exclusive breastfeeding), a harmless practice is one that does not contribute
to improving the health status of the mother or newborn but also does not have a damaging
effect (for example, beliefs/rituals surrounding the care of the placenta after birth). Harmful
practices cover anything which might carry a risk of infection, loss of blood, transmission
of an STI or make the mother or newborn weak. Harmful practices may also delay the
womans access to appropriate care (for example, beliefs that announcing the onset of
labour will result in an evil spell being cast). The following questions may help you as you
think about this.
a. Does the practice involve animal or human waste? For example, a common practice of
rubbing manure onto the babys umbilical cord can cause dangerous infections.
b. Does the practice involve allocating different amounts of food, work or rest? For
example, some cultures routinely give women less to eat than men. This could be
potentially harmful to a pregnant or breastfeeding woman. But a cultural practice which
encourages a woman who recently gave birth to rest in bed can be helpful.
c. Does the practice involve sexual intercourse? For example, sexual cleansing where a
woman with STIs has sex with a traditional medicine practitioner is unlikely to do any
good, and can transmit STIs/HIV if condoms are not used. However, sexual intercourse
between a woman and her husband during pregnancy is harmless, unless one or both
of the couple are HIV-positive and are not using condoms.
d. Does the practice involve taking blood from the woman outside of the health service?
For example, taking blood from pregnant women to cleanse her of demons could be
harmful as there is risk of infection and too much blood could be taken.
e. Does the practice involve local herbs, remedies or medications? For example, taking
local remedies to stimulate contractions could be harmful, but other herbs or foods to
promote better nutrition might be harmless or helpful depending on the ingredients.
f. Does the practice involve delays in reaching a skilled attendant? For example, the
belief that infidelity causes obstructed labour may result in reluctance to give birth in a
health facility.
3. Think about how you might incorporate some of the helpful and harmless practices into
your advice and counselling with pregnant women and their families. Think about how
you will discuss the harmful practices with women, their partners and their families and the
community so you can improve your mutual understanding.
A Handbook for Building Skills | 47

Session 4

Activity 1 continued...

Our View
Your list will be divided into those practices which are helpful, for example, a pregnant
woman should be given an additional portion of meat or fish to help her stay strong.
They could be harmless practices, such as the placenta after birth should be buried. Or
they could be harmful, such as putting cow dung on the umbilical cord. Whether helpful,
harmless or harmful, you should try to better understand the practice and belief. Where
practices are helpful, they should be encouraged. Where harmless, there is no point
in discouraging them. You may find you get more respect and better support from the
community if you respect their harmless practices which may have great significance to
them and their cultural and social context.
Discuss with women, their families and others in the community those practices which
are harmful or which could endanger the health of the mother or newborn. Listen to their
explanations about the practice and discuss the reasons why the practice is harmful.
In many situations a replacement harmless practice can be substituted, instead of the
harmful practice. In the case of female genital mutilation, for example, you could still
conduct a passage of rites ceremony but simply replace the words in the traditional
song used during the ceremony and provide a beaded necklace or some culturally
suitable symbol instead of performing the cutting ceremony.

Many practices are deep rooted in social and cultural norms and gender roles and
perceptions. However, health workers can play an important role in stimulating discussions
on these issues in the community.

Gender roles
Two of the differences between men and women are sex and gender. Sex is the physical, biological
difference between women and men. It refers to whether people are born female or male. Gender,
is not physical like sex. Gender refers to the expectations people have from someone or a community
because they are female or male. Gender attitudes and behaviours are learned and the concept can
change over time. Sex is biologically determined while gender is socially determined in terms of the
roles and responsibilities that society or family assigns to women and men.
Men and women usually accept the roles defined and perpetuated by their community which can
have both advantages and disadvantages for them. There are many factors that influence gender
roles. These include: age, culture, marital status, education, economics, profession, and the country
or society itself. Understanding the gender roles in the community can help you to better understand
the situation of the women and men you counsel, and thus improve your counselling interactions.
48 | Counselling for MNH

Influential Factors

Understanding local gender roles and how they affect men and
women in your community can improve your counselling interactions.


Women should stay at home and look after the home or family.
Men should not do housework.
Men should not cry.
Women should not disagree with their husbands.
Women should keep their bodies covered.
Women should not drink alcohol.

How are women and men expected to think, feel and act in your community? How do they learn to
do this? Gender roles are learned from a young age as parents may treat girls and boys differently.
In addition, children often copy the behaviour of their parents.
Many women find the gender role of wife, mother and housekeeper very satisfying, providing them
with status in the community. However, it can be a disadvantage to other women who want to have
only a few children or want to pursue a career or other interests. Some women manage to combine
a number of different roles. For the family and the community it can be beneficial for women to look
after the children and remain at home, but it could also be a disadvantage as women who have paid
employment could bring other benefits to the family and community.
Gender roles also teach men and women to express themselves differently. Women are often allowed
to be more emotional whereas men are taught to keep their feelings inside. Men may get less support
A Handbook for Building Skills | 49

Session 4

when they have problems due to expected gender roles. Sometimes it will be important for you
to counsel men and it will be particularly important to take into account the communitys norms for
gender roles as you do so. For example, a woman may want her partner or husband to be present
when she gives birth but the man may feel pressure from others in the community or fear the reaction
of others in a community where this is not usual practice.
Similarly we can see examples of gender roles in the community. In some communities the opinions of
men may be valued more highly than womens opinions. Women may not be encouraged to speak
or participate in discussions. This means that the community hears more about what men think about
problems and issues. The community or family may not benefit in this situation as womens knowledge
and experience are undervalued or overlooked. You may need to be aware of this when you work
with communities, in order to support women to share information, and discuss their knowledge.


Women make up two-thirds of the illiterate population in the world, and in many
countries, there exists a gender gap in education - far fewer women than men are
Women carry out two-thirds of the worlds work, but earn only one-tenth of the
worlds income.
Maternal mortality in developing countries is 22 times greater as an average than in
developed countries.
In many places, women are twice as likely to work for nothing as men.
Think about these statements. You may like to use them as a discussion point with the
community when you discuss gender roles and inequality.
Source: Population Council. A client-centered approach to reproductive health.
A trainers manual. Islamabad, Pakistan, 2005.

The impact of gender roles on health

Gender roles have an impact on beliefs, attitudes and values. Gender roles can also greatly affect
health behaviour and the sexual and reproductive health of men and women in your community.
For example, in some communities adolescents are encouraged to have sex with older men; thus
gender roles can effect the transmission of STIs including HIV/AIDS and can also lead to unwanted
pregnancies. Gender roles can lead to other undesirable sexual behaviours such as women having
sex when they do not want to, and even rape and violence against women. Alternatively gender
roles may prohibit women from expressing their own sexual needs or desires. Gender roles can have
an impact on decision-making. For example, in some societies where there is a female hierarchy,
young mothers will not be allowed to take decisions about seeking care on their own. This may not
always be negative. In certain cases, adolescent girls may want support from older women in taking
50 | Counselling for MNH

Influential Factors

Household decision-making processes

People do not make decisions in isolation from the context of their lives, and this includes asking
advice from other family members and even the wider community. Research has shown that both
the context in which decision-making occurs and the social influences such as those of a partner or
the family, often have more effect on decision-making than merely information and education or the
provision of communication materials.
You may need to facilitate the decision-making process among all those in the household who
have important contributions to make. Cultural practices and gender roles often heavily influence
the decision-making process. A woman may be unwilling to commit to a plan of action or take a
decision until she has discussed the issues with her partner or other family members such as her mother
or mother-in-law. You can support women in these discussions by reviewing the advantages and
disadvantages of different options and her needs in that situation.


Situation: Counselling a woman about the need to exclusively breastfeed her baby up to

six months.
Problem: Her mother is encouraging her to introduce porridge at three months.
1. Establish with the woman what she wants to do through open questioning and active
2. Review the advantages and disadvantages with her to help her make her decision.
3. If she wants to continue breastfeeding exclusively then facilitate the process of
generating options of how she can address this subject with her mother. She might
want information from you to give to her mother; she may want her mother to join
you in a discussion; she may want to practise different scenarios with you.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 51

Session 4

Activity 2
45 minutes

To assess how gender roles and

household decision-making contribute
to the health of the women you see.

This activity explores the context of gender roles and household decision-making and how
these impact on maternal and newborn health.
Note to facilitator: consider splitting the group up into smaller groups and give them
different parts of the activity to complete, which they can then share with the whole group.
1. Are there different ways in which women and men are expected to behave in the
2. Do these different patterns of behaviour depend on the age or marital status of women?
3. What impact might these behaviours have on MNH?
4. What other reproductive health problems might these roles contribute to?
5. What can you as a health worker do, in a counselling session or during your interactions
with the community, to have an impact on gender roles so that women can better care for
themselves and their babies?
6. In general, in your community, how are decisions in the household made regarding the
care of a pregnant woman?
7. How does this affect MNH?
8. How might you support women in the decision-making process in their homes about
9. How might you include other key family or community members in the counselling and
decision-making processes?

Our View
Some gender roles are influenced by religious beliefs while other gender roles are
based on traditions or culture. Social norms and gender roles can lead to women not
valuing their own bodies, or not understanding how their bodies work. This means they
do not know what to expect or what is normal. Sometimes gender roles can lead to
women paying more attention to the sexual needs and desires of men than to their own
needs. This can lead to unwanted sex or having sex by force or to women not using
contraceptives because of pressure from men. Other reproductive health problems
may arise such as STIs.

52 | Counselling for MNH

Influential Factors

Activity 2 continued...
You can play an important role in teaching women about the different parts of their bodies
and the role that they play in sex and reproduction. Discuss with women what is normal
(for example, routine vaginal discharge) and when they need to seek care (in cases of
abnormal or infected vaginal discharge). You can also support women to take more
control over their lives so that they can negotiate safer sex practices and contraception
and participate in decision-making, especially where it concerns their sexual health, or
the health of their baby.
Some communities have negative views about womens bodies. For individual women this can lead
to feelings of shame and a lack of knowledge of their own body. Problems can arise because:
Women are embarrassed.
They do not know how to protect themselves from STIs or unwanted pregnancy.
They are not in control of their own sexual health decisions.
Help women to understand how their bodies work in relation to sexual and reproductive health. If it
is socially and culturally appropriate, help them to explore their sexuality which includes their feelings
and attitudes towards sexual relations.
Recognize when it is important to include partners and other family members in counselling for
MNH. Also support women in how to deal with family involvement in their decisions. Do this through
interactive discussions with the women. Sometimes you may need to work with partners or other
family members in the absence of the woman (for example, when she is too ill to take decisions on
her own). Your skill is in supporting her in determining who should be involved in the decision-making
process. But remember to respect confidentiality in terms of the womans wishes.

Involving the partner and other family members in counselling may require additional
time and resources. However, if you only counsel a woman, the decisions she makes may
be overruled later by her family.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 53

Session 4

Activity 3
3-4 hours

To explore the counselling

context in your community.

Before moving on to Part 3 of this Handbook where you will examine topics and practice skills,
you may benefit from a more in-depth exploration of the counselling context in your community.
Note to facilitator: divide the work of this activity among the group. Get them to plan and
decide who will interview each different community group (as outlined in number 1), and to
agree how the interviews should be conducted and which questions to ask.
1. Set up interviews, meetings or informal discussions with religious leaders, traditional
healers, chiefs, and political leaders, in addition to other health providers and members
of the community.
2. Make a guide of some of the questions and topic areas you would like to discuss in
advance. The topics you explore might include areas such as:
a. Local culture and social systems
b. Politics and religion
c. Poverty
d. Gender roles
e. Family structure and household decision-making
f. Women with special needs
g. Local beliefs and practices related to maternal and newborn health
h. Opinions about the health service.
3. Take notes of the discussion and share them with your colleagues imagine you are trying
to explain the context to someone new that has never been to your community before.
4. Discuss how your findings might have an impact on maternal and newborn health.

Our View
You may find that you are working with a community where the context is the same for the
majority of the population. Or you might find that you work in a community where there
are lots of differences; for example, a community where there is more than one dominant
religion, tribe or ethnic group. Different groups in the community will view maternal and
newborn health and reproductive health in different ways. It is important to understand
all the different factors and views that contribute to the social and cultural context of the
area where you work. Understanding the context that communities live in can help you
to counsel more effectively as you will understand the context in which decisions have to
be taken and how the context may affect maternal and newborn health.

54 | Counselling for MNH

Influential Factors

Activity 3 continued...
With this understanding, you can better facilitate processes for women and their
families to find culturally and socially acceptable solutions for their problems. By
doing this they are more likely to be able to follow the action and decisions they have

Couple counselling
Just as it is important to consider the household decision-making processes, there are many times
during counselling for maternal and newborn health where you will need to work with couples - the
woman and her partner/husband. There are some obvious instances such as counselling about
family planning where you could work with a couple, but there are other times also such as when you
counsel about care during pregnancy, discuss support during labour or following birth.
When counselling a couple it is important to acknowledge that they may not have the same attitudes,
beliefs and values. They may not even have the same perception of the problem or need that you are
discussing. They may have different educational, social and literacy levels, and this is particularly true
if culture gender roles in your community do not support womens education. Therefore you cannot
treat them as a couple, but rather you must tailor your counselling skills to two individuals who need
to reach a mutual decision.
You may find that you want to agree or disagree more strongly with one of the couple compared to
the other. This is where the principles of self-reflection, and empathy and respect come in. You need
to be aware of how your own attitudes, values and beliefs (which are shaped by the cultural, socioeconomic and gender context that you live in) affect the way you think. Even if you disagree with
one of the couple, you must maintain your respect for that persons point of view. It is not your role to
support either the man or the woman in the argument.

It may be important to include her

husband/partner in the counselling process.
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Session 4

If you can form an alliance with both partners, it allows for a situation of trust and mutual respect.
You can then follow the steps in the counselling process, making sure you give them both an equal
chance to participate in the discussion. It is possible that sometimes when you counsel a couple, the
situation may become heated with one person becoming abusive or aggressive. It can be a good
idea in these situations to spend time with each person individually before bringing them together so
that they both have a chance to talk freely. When you bring them together you can take some time to
agree upon some ground rules for your discussion.


No interrupting one another
No shouting or aggressive behaviour
Mutual respect
Consider all options before discarding them.
In deciding upon these ground rules together you also have to take into account what is
appropriate socially and culturally in terms of how men and women behave.

Counselling on issues of sexuality

For most health care providers, sexuality will probably be the most difficult and challenging area of
counselling during pregnancy and the postpartum period. We are all reasonably comfortable talking
about STIs and family planning methods, but discussing and counselling for other sexuality issues and
in particular sexual intercourse is more challenging and as a result often avoided. There are many
priorities in the provision of good health care to women during pregnancy and childbirth such as
preparing for the birth, learning what danger signs to look for, all aimed at reducing morbidity and
mortality from pregnancy and childbirth and providing women with good care. It is easy for issues of
sexuality to be put to one side. In comparison to other clinical conditions, they are not as high on the
priority list for providing good care.
However, sexuality issues do contribute to anxiety for many women in pregnancy and after birth.There
is often little opportunity for these anxieties to be allayed or even discussed. This is mostly due to our
own limitations in discussing matters of sexuality frankly and openly. There is also a lack of evidence
in this area, which means that, there is little clear guidance.
Many women will not need extensive counselling around sexuality issues. It is useful for the health
care provider to give women an opportunity to discuss sexuality issues when appropriate. Giving
women the opportunity to discuss sexuality can be done simply by quietly saying to a woman that if
she has any problems or questions of any kind during her pregnancy or after birth, including things
that she may not feel able to talk about to other people, she can discuss them with the counsellor.

56 | Counselling for MNH

Influential Factors

We have already mentioned the importance of the cultural and social context in counselling. This is
particularly important regarding sexuality issues. Most cultures and societies have well-defined attitudes
about sexuality, and also well-defined ideas as to what sexual practices are acceptable. Many of
these social attitudes or morals are closely linked to the religious practices within a community. Many
religious texts provide clear guidance on sexuality issues during pregnancy. Counselling around
sexuality issues should always start with you familiarizing yourself with the cultural and religious
context and the specific information needed around the sexuality practices of each community. If you
are from the community in which you are counselling then you may already be familiar with many of
the local practices. If you are not from the community then this information can sometimes be learnt
from other health care providers, from the elder women, or other respected people in the community.
In some communities sexuality is not an open subject and even gathering information about sexual
practices needs to be done respectfully and sensitively.
Different communities use different terms for sexual intercourse. For example, some communities would
not be comfortable with the term sexual intercourse or sex and may prefer to say sleeping together.
Using the same terms and names that are acceptable in a community demonstrates respect for the
community and may be a useful tool to paving the way for open discussion. It would be appropriate
for you to support local sexual practices that are not harmful. For example, many communities prohibit
sexual intercourse at different times during pregnancy. While there is little evidence to prohibit sexual
intercourse in an uncomplicated pregnancy, it would not be harmful for couples to follow their
community sexual practice in this instance and therefore you can support this practice. However, it
would be inappropriate for you to actively support harmful sexual practices such as Female Genital
Mutilation (FGM).
Many of the questions and concerns that women have related to sexuality issues during pregnancy
are related to the physiological changes of pregnancy. For example, women may think that the
normal increase in vaginal discharge that happens during pregnancy (leucorrhoea) is a sign of an
STI. Providing this information as well as screening and testing for STIs is important. Women are also
often unprepared for the changes in their sexual desire during pregnancy. This changes as pregnancy
progresses: during the first part of pregnancy when women are often feeling nauseated and sick
their desire is typically reduced; in the middle part of pregnancy women often feel much better and
therefore their desire returns to normal; in the last part of pregnancy women feel very uncomfortable
due to the size of the baby they are carrying, they are tired and their interest in sex decreases. These
changes are all related to the body processes in pregnancy and are normal. They also may vary
greatly from woman to woman.
Counselling during pregnancy is limited by time and sometimes the environment may not enable you
to speak to a woman about sensitive or private topics. Sometimes the barriers of language, culture or
age may become a barrier between you and the woman, particularly in discussing sexuality issues.
In such instances it would be appropriate for you to encourage the woman to open up perhaps to
another health care provider or community leader.

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Session 4

In talking about sexuality issues you may encounter a situation when a woman discloses a sexual
problem that you feel unable to deal with. Examples of this may be a woman who discloses abuse
or incest or a couple who have a long-standing sexual dysfunction. In this situation it would be
appropriate for you to seek help from another more experienced counsellor or someone with special
experience in these matters.
Note for working group facilitator:
The key issue is to try to prevent the working group from totally dismissing any need for counselling
around sexuality issues because they have been offended by some of the suggestions in the Handbook.
The role of the facilitator is to encourage the working group to voice their concerns on this topic,
demonstrate that these concerns are respected and that local custom will guide the counselling.
At the same time the facilitators should try to ensure that counselling around issues of sexuality is
considered to be valuable and not abandoned. It is useful for the facilitator to acknowledge the
importance of counselling on issues of sexuality and the potential benefits to pregnant women as
outlined in the handbook and to consider that local custom and taboos, sometimes influenced by
gender discrimination may be a potential barrier to providing women with important counselling.

What did I learn?

After completing this session you should be more aware of the wider context of counselling
and key factors that can affect it. These include: socio-economic status, culture, gender roles,
traditional practices, and the wider support and decision-making network from the partner, family
and community. You have also considered how to improve your skills in couple counselling and
counselling on sensitive issues around sexuality.
Progress check
Do I understand the influence gender, the socio-economic system and culture have on
maternal and newborn health in my community?
How can I discuss practices and beliefs which are not harmful?
How can I discuss practices and beliefs which are harmful?
What are the different ways I can facilitate the decision-making process with couples and
other family members?
How can I address sexuality concerns of women during pregnancy or after birth?

58 | Counselling for MNH

Part 2: Counselling



Session 5

What is in this session?

In this session we first examine how to establish a good counselling environment. Then we review some
of the tools and aids you can use to support your counselling activities and assist in communication;
these include educational materials such as posters, flip charts, and home-based records. We also
discuss group work as an aid to counselling.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Organize the counselling environment both at the health facility and for home visits.
2. Use a range of different tools and aids to support your counselling activities.
3. Evaluate which tools and aids are most appropriate for your needs as a counsellor and tailor
them to the needs of the woman or couple.

Establishing the counselling environment

As well as needing a thorough understanding of the wider context in which counselling takes place,
it is important that you establish a good environment for counselling whether in the health facility or in
a home. For many in the community, the health facility is a strange environment, so there is a lot you
can do to improve the counselling environment. Even when visiting the home, you can create a better
counselling environment by going to a separate room or asking friends and relatives to wait outside.
When we talk about the counselling environment, it is
not just the physical environment we are referring to. It
also includes how you greet people, how you talk to
them and other aspects of non-verbal communication
such as eye contact and body language. How you treat
people in these ways is all part of setting up a good
counselling environment, and you are demonstrating
your use of empathy and respect (a key guiding
principle from Session 2).
Preparing a good counselling environment lays the
necessary foundation for forming an alliance and
building trust.

Does the health facility offer a

welcoming environment?

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Practical Considerations

Activity 1

An opportunity for you to reflect

on how you interact with people
and the factors that influences this.

1. Use your notebook to record how you greet and treat people and how you are greeted
and treated over the course of a few days. Try to include different interactions, for example,
in a shop or bank, at work, or in a new place.
2. How did the different interactions you had make you feel? Did you feel welcome and
included? Did you ever feel unwelcome or isolated?
3. If you did not visit a new place during this time, think about a time when you have visited a
new place, especially a new institution such as a government building or an official office.
How did you feel? What was done or could have been done to make the experience
4. If you are working in groups, share your findings and discuss them.
5. What are the most important things that people can do to make others feel welcome and
comfortable? What things should you try to avoid? What influences the way you interact
with other people?

Our View
You probably found that you had different types of interactions with different people
depending on how well you knew them. You may also have found that the physical
context in which you met influenced the interaction e.g. was it a familiar or strange
environment to you? Also the nature of your social and socio-economic status relative to
the other person or people will also have affected the interaction. Think how differently
you would feel before meeting your friends to how you would feel before meeting the
Minister of Health! You may have found that where people are friendly and courteous
that the interaction felt more comfortable. Other things which improve the interaction
include where someone takes time to explain a situation or procedure which is new to
you. For example, if you were to meet the Minister of Health you would probably feel
more comfortable if someone told you in advance how to greet the Minister, where the
meeting would take place, and what would be expected of you. For some women or
couples, entering a health facility can be as daunting to them as it would be for you to
meet the Minister. Take time to reflect on this and think about what you can do to help put
them at ease. Remember as mentioned in Session 2 it is important to maintain courtesy
at all times.

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Session 5


welcoming (e.g. greet clients appropriately, show them where to sit)
comfortable (e.g. have comfortable seats, try to sit at the same level)
a place with few distractions (e.g. no telephone, or interruptions from other staff or
family members)
somewhere where privacy and confidentiality can be maintained (e.g. somewhere
away from other people)
non-threatening (e.g. a place where people can feel relaxed and comfortable).

When you visit people in their homes it is difficult to organize the counselling environment to meet all
your needs. However, you can make sure you sit somewhere comfortable and quiet away from other
family members. You can try to minimize distractions by switching off radios or televisions.

Confidentiality and privacy

Welcoming and greeting people is the first step to establishing a good counselling environment. But
part of creating a safe and welcoming counselling environment includes the need for both auditory
(hearing) and visual (seeing) confidentiality in order to promote trust. A lack of trust may decrease
an individuals participation in the counselling process or may even threaten or scare them. Creating
an environment of trust and confidentiality is especially important for women who are distressed
or women with special needs such as those with disabilities, women who have been abused (see
Session 16), or adolescents.

Activity 2
20 minutes to several hours
depending on the level of
reorganization required

To improve the counselling environment in your

health facility.

Within the health facility there is a lot that you can do to make sure the counselling environment
is appropriate.
Note to facilitator: this activity can either be done as one big group or you can divide the
work between smaller groups giving each group one of the questions to tackle.
1. Go to the entrance of the health facility. Is it clear where people should go to find you?
Decide what you could do to improve access, e.g., place signs which include a welcome
and/or drawing; have all staff greet people in an appropriate manner; train staff, including
non-medical staff (e.g. guards, cleaners etc.), with courtesy and respect.

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Practical Considerations

Activity 2 continued...
2. Now look around the immediate area that you work in. Is it a welcoming environment? Is
it obvious where people should go? Where they should wait? Are the different rooms and
areas labelled? Is it clean and tidy? Does staff look friendly and welcoming?
3. Where do physical examinations take place? Is this area private? How could you ensure
greater privacy? E.g. using curtains, ensuring everyone knocks before entering.
4. Where does counselling usually take place? Is it appropriate? You can assess whether it
is appropriate by answering the following questions: Is it comfortable? How is the room
arranged? Are you able to sit next to each other and at the same eye level? Can your
conversations be overheard? What could you do to ensure greater privacy? How can you
minimize distractions? How could you make it a more welcoming environment?

Our View
Hopefully you have been able to make some changes that will allow the women and
families you see to feel more welcome and more comfortable. You will have considered
how to ensure privacy and minimize distractions, how to label rooms and make signpost
directions. To assess how well you have done, pretend you are a woman on her first visit!
Also ask for feedback from people who use your health facility through discussions, a
mini questionnaire/survey or a suggestions box.

Tools to aid counselling

The best way to communicate information as previously mentioned involves an interactive, two-way
discussion. It can sometimes be helpful to have prompts to remind us of the information we need to
cover. Prompts can take many forms, it could be a checklist of activities or it could be a poster or
flipchart or other type of visual aid.

Visual aids
Visual aids can be used to reinforce your discussion. Visual aids can also stand alone as methods
of providing information. The main disadvantage of using them alone without discussion is that they
do not allow for interactive communication and therefore may be misunderstood. If you do give out
visual aids without having a discussion you can overcome this difficulty by providing people with an
opportunity to ask questions at a later point either in group or individual discussions.

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Session 5

Visual aids and other tools for counselling:

leaflets or fact sheets
flip charts
overhead projector and transparencies
slide shows
models (such as female pelvis, penis)
chalk or whiteboards
pictographs (picture leaflets)
songs, drama or poems
real life examples, testimonies or case studies from women
written notes to remind you of points to cover.
Note: Remember to ensure that all materials/tools are developed with a consideration of the literacy
levels of the women and families you are counselling.

Activity 3

1 hour

To review existing visual aids and materials

that you may have at the health facility.

1. Gather all the tools and materials that you have at your health facility.
2. What topic areas do they cover? Have they been field tested with women from the zone to
ensure they are suitable, appropriate and understandable? Do they need further explanation?
3. Are there any other support materials that you like? Can you identify the topic areas?
4. How could you go about developing or obtaining more materials? What resources would
you need to do this?

Our View
Developing good visual aids and tools is a skilled activity and many people specialize in
this as a job. You may well have a department within the health service which does just
that. Where possible you should try and use existing tools and visual aids because they
will have been tested and reviewed. However, there are some instances where there will
be no tool available for a topic. This is where you can develop your own tools. It could
be something simple like a fact sheet, or a list of support organizations on a particular
topic. It could be a simple poster or a prompt sheet to remind you of all the information
you need to cover. You might also consider working with local women or communities
to develop and create some materials although this will take time. As you work through
the Handbook you will find suggestions of tools and aids that you can create yourself.
Another thing you should consider doing is organizing a resource library at your health
facility where you keep all your tools and aids both professionally-developed aids as
well as those that you and your colleagues have put together.

64 | Counselling for MNH

Practical Considerations

Home-based records
In some communities, women are encouraged to have their own home-based maternal health records.
These records often consist of personal information such as marital status, parity and information on
past pregnancies and births. These home-based records can be an excellent counselling tool. They
provide a means to record what has been discussed in individual counselling sessions which can
then be built upon in future discussions. You can also include the womans birth and emergency plans
as part of the records (see Session 7 which provides more details on birth and emergency plans). As
the record is home-based, a literate woman can refer to the discussions between visits. If she does
not read, you will need to find other ways (such as images) to remind her of the key points discussed.
It is useful to remember that if the records are home-based women need to be consulted as to what
will be recorded. Other people may easily read the records, and the woman may not want all of
her pregnancy information available for anyone (including her husband or partner) to read. For
this reason sometimes women will not inform you about their full medical history or past pregnancy
history. A common example is that women will not inform you about a past termination of pregnancy
or miscarriage and may only reveal this verbally to a counsellor. It is important to respect her wishes
with regards to her home-based records and to remember confidentiality.
If you do not have home-based records in your community, why not consider starting them up?

Role of records in counselling


stimulate discussion and interaction

remind the counsellor of the information to be communicated
communicate information in a simple relevant way to the woman and her family
act as a reminder to the woman and family of previous communication
illustrate examples and consequences of action/inaction
strengthen links and communication between the different levels of the health system.

Programme tools
It is likely that you will already have a number of tools developed for the services you offer. You might
not have considered their role as tools to aid counselling. For example, you may have checklists,
charts or clinical decision-making tools such as the WHO PCPNC. These can all be used to help
you remember information you need to cover and when to discuss it. You may also have some more
specialized programme tools or guides for topics such as breastfeeding or family planning.
Why not consider making an inventory or list of all the tools that you have (building on the list you
generated in Activity 3) and how you might be able to use them in counselling for maternal and newborn

Group information sessions

It is not always possible to spend time providing detailed information to individual women on every
aspect of MNH. There are a number of topics where it is beneficial to work with groups of women,
or groups in the community. For example, basic care in the home during pregnancy are topics which
can be communicated in a group and which do not necessarily need individual counselling. You
might just counsel the woman on the plans she has made to get the care she needs when you see
A Handbook for Building Skills | 65

Session 5

her individually, following the group session. Given the volume of work that some skilled attendants
have, and the limited time you have with each woman, using groups which are already in existence,
such as in the waiting room, or community groups can be beneficial. This can also help to increase
general awareness and support for maternal and newborn health needs.
You can also consider holding discussion and support groups for women with different needs,
including new mothers, women who have had a miscarriage or abortion, or for special groups of
mothers such as adolescents. Support for breastfeeding is also a good example of a group which
can be formed where women can share experiences and support each other.
Some topics are more difficult to discuss in a group session but can still be addressed, such as providing
general information on STIs and condom use (including demonstrating condom use). Other issues, such
as more personal sexuality issues would not appropriately be discussed in a group. However, addressing
some general points and raising awareness in a comfortable, non-intimidating group setting can then
encourage women to seek or raise points in individual counselling sessions to address their own concerns.


Make sure you can be heard.
Make sure any visual aids you use can be seen.
Ask the participants for feedback as to whether they can see and hear.
Talk slowly and clearly.
Use an interesting and animated style of talking to keep peoples attention.
Maintain eye contact (if appropriate in your culture).
Change the tone of your voice.
Move around.
Allow time for group to ask questions.
Ask questions to make sure the topic has been understood.

Sometimes it can be beneficial to share

information with women in groups.

66 | Counselling for MNH

Practical Considerations

Encourage interaction, discussion and questions. Women can learn a lot from one another in a
group session. Try to get feedback on whether the information has been understood. Try to avoid
lecturing your audience with long lists of dos and donts find out what they already know and
what they already understand. Encourage the audience to share information with one another and
facilitate a discussion among them on the topic. Be brief and avoid overloading the group with too
much information. Also remember to maintain courtesy and confidentiality within the group setting.
It is important to tell the group that they can see you individually after the group session if they have
issues they want to discuss in private.

Activity 4

2 hours preparation plus the

group presentation/discussion

To improve skills for

working in groups.

1. Review all the material in this section, taking notes to help you.
2. Plan the content of a group discussion about the foods that pregnant women should eat to
maintain a healthy pregnancy. Then carry out the session with a group of women. It may
be easiest to do this with a group of women attending antenatal care.
3. If you are not working in teams or do not have a facilitator for the Handbook, ask colleagues
to act as observers. Give them the following checklist to use to evaluate your session:
a. Did the facilitator greet the women warmly, introduce herself or himself and explain the
purpose of the session?
b. Could the facilitator be heard?
c. Was the pace and style of the language appropriate?
d. Were visual aids used appropriately?
e. Were women provided with an opportunity to participate?
f. Was the groups prior knowledge assessed? Did the facilitator build upon this
g. Were women encouraged to participate in the group discussion?
h. Were the women asked if they had any questions or if there was any point that could
be explained more clearly?
i. Were the women asked what they thought about the session and what they would like
to see improved?

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Session 5

Activity 4 continued...
4. Get your observers to also take notes and write down examples under broad headings of
what went well and what could be improved.
5. At the end of the session write down your own thoughts under the heading of what you
thought went well and what could have been improved upon.
6. Get feedback from the observers and also if you can from the women who were in the
7. Use the feedback to reflect on your skills and how you might improve them.

Our View
Like any skill, working with groups needs to be practised. When leading a group, it is
easy to overlook many things such as talking as if to only one person, not talking loud
enough or talking too fast. We might forget to involve the participants or assume they
have prior knowledge or tell them what they already know. We might end up lecturing
them or providing too much or too little information. Getting feedback from an observer
or from groups themselves is an important way to improve your skills. Take time to reflect
on what you have learned about your style and how you might try to change it. Use your
notebook to write down how you are progressing.

Team work
One of the biggest constraints to better counselling in MNH is lack of time. Working with groups can
be one way to reach more women and their families and free up more time for individual counselling
sessions. Another useful aid to counselling can be to utilize the team of people you work with.
Examine ways you can share the workload and contribute to improving a better service. As a team
you can also discuss cases or situations together in order to pool your ideas or resources, to improve
the counselling you offer. Working as a team can also help to ensure continuity of care, for example,
if a woman who is attending antenatal clinic sessions is likely to see different staff each time she
comes, then making sure you discuss her needs and situation or keeping accurate records means that
you and your colleagues are all informed about her specific situation.

68 | Counselling for MNH

Practical Considerations

What did I learn?

In this session you learned about the importance of organizing the counselling environment as
a basis for a better counselling process. You looked at how to make people feel more welcome
and how to ensure confidentiality and privacy. You also examined other practical things you
can do to improve the counselling process such as the use of tools and visual aids, working
with groups and team work. Each of these areas can help to support the service you provide
to women, couples and their families.
This is the end of Part 2 of the Handbook. You should now be confident in the definition of
counselling for MNH. You should be able to describe the six key steps to the counselling
process, and guiding principles which form their foundation. You should also be familiar with
the skills needed for effective counselling. You should be confident that you understand the
diverse factors influencing counselling, and the importance of the counselling context. Finally,
you should also be more aware of the counselling environment, and the many useful tools/aids
which facilitate your role as a counsellor. Before moving onto the next part of the Handbook
which focuses more on specific topics, spend some time reviewing all the work you have done
in Part 2.

A Handbook for Building Skills | 69

A Handbook for Building Skills



Part 3: Topics




Session 6

What is in this session?

The focus here is on how to counsel and communicate with women about care in the home during
pregnancy, also called self-care.




Two way

Build on skills and


Forming an alliance

Tailoring to
specific needs





1. Assess situation
2. Define problems, needs
and information gaps
3. Generate alternatives
4. Prioritize solutions
5. Develop a plan
6. Review and evaluate


Two-way communication:
communicating with groups
Forming an alliance: facilitating
partner and family involvement
Counselling context: providing
support to household decisionmaking processes
Addressing socio-cultural beliefs
and practices.




What skills will I develop?


What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Counsel and communicate effectively with women on self-care in the home during pregnancy.
2. Consider cultural and religious beliefs in the community affecting the care a pregnant woman
receives in the home and the support she receives from her partner and family.
3. Assess how to involve partners and other key family members in counselling.
4. Consider household decision-making dynamics.

74 | Counselling for MNH

Care During Pregnancy

General management and care during pregnancy

This topic is about the care a woman during pregnancy needs to receive in the home focusing
on pregnant women who do not appear to have problems or complications. This session seeks
to address the following questions: How should you as a health worker support women in taking
better care of themselves during pregnancy? How can their partners, their families and the broader
community support and care for pregnant women? How can cultural practices affect the care a
pregnant woman needs and recieves?
Not all topics require counselling; some are points of communication and discussion - others require
a more in-depth process to determine how women will take better care of themselves with support
from their families. Limited time and resources mean it is not always possible to counsel all women
in all aspects of care during pregnancy. Learn to identify with each woman which points should be
prioritized and how to best respond to the individual needs of each woman. Find a balance between
general communication and the need to provide specific counselling and support to individual women.


Visit your health centre at least four times during your pregnancy, even if you do not
have any problems.
If you have any concerns about your health or your babys health, go to the health
Bring your home-based maternal record to every visit.
Eat healthier foods including more fruits and vegetables, beans, meat, fish, eggs,
cheese, milk.
Take iron tablets and any other supplements or medicines you have been given every
day as explained by your health worker.
Rest when you can. Avoid lifting heavy objects.
Sleep under a bednet treated with insecticide.
Do not take any medication unless prescribed by the health centre.
Do not drink alcohol or smoke.
Practise safe sex, including use of a condom correctly in every sex act to prevent STIs
or HIV/AIDS, if you or your partner is at risk of infection.
Know the signs of labour painful contractions every 20 minutes or less; bag of
waters break; bloody sticky discharge.
Know the danger signs and when to seek care (see Sessions 7 and 8).

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Session 6

Activity 1
1 to 2 hours

To help you prioritize aspects of self-care

for counselling and communication with
women and their families.

Part 1: This part of the activity encourages you to reflect on what you already know about
care in the household of pregnant women in your community.
1. What are the general practices for care of the pregnant women in your community?
Consider religious and socio-cultural practices, including sexual practices and taboos, and
topics such as nutrition, hygiene, rest, work, vaccinations, medicines and supplements.
(Refer to the work you have done in Session 4, Activity 1 on local practices).
2. Are most women in your community seen by a health worker for antenatal care? How many
times do they receive care during pregnancy, and in what months of the pregnancy do they
receive care?
3. For those who do not receive antenatal care, why not? How can they be supported so that
they would receive care? What can you do to support them? What can others, including
the family and the community, do?
4. What things can a woman do for herself to maintain a healthy pregnancy?
5. Are most women aware of the changes that will happen to their body during pregnancy?
6. Are there any harmful local practices during pregnancy? (See Session 4)
7. What is the role of the partner during pregnancy? Who makes decisions in the household
related to how a woman should be cared for during pregnancy? Are these decisions
supportive? How could you talk to families about the decisions they make, and help them
to consider the consequences of them?
8. How can you consider socio-cultural and religious practices when counselling and
communicating on self-care of women during pregnancy?
9. Refer to the above list WHO recommendations for self-care during pregnancy. How do
the WHO recommendations compare to the advice and information you routinely give
women on general care during pregnancy?

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Care During Pregnancy

Activity 1 continued...
Part 2: This part of the activity aims to help you prioritize the most important information that
needs to be communicated to women and other family members.
1. Review all the information that you have on the general care and management of pregnant
women: nutrition, hygiene, physical activity, vaccinations and preventing diseases and
infections. Any other topics to add? Think how you can best use this list.
2. When are the best times during pregnancy to communicate and counsel women on the
different topics?
3. Consider which points are best for communication and which need more interaction or a
counselling process. Consider where you can be the facilitator or where other resources
or people can be used.
4. Which information should be shared with her partner and other family members; consider
the importance of different family members and their roles during pregnancy: the pregnant
woman, her partner, her mother, her mother-in-law, other women, and elders.
5. Consider if there are women in the community with special needs who may require
additional information or support for care during pregnancy (i.e. adolescents, women with
HIV, women with a handicap, and women who live with violence. (See Sessions 14 and

Our View
Considering the local context, develop a list of key points on self-care during pregnancy
and use it during your interactions with women to review key information. If no other
material exists, give your list out to women and their families. You could also use it as a
guide when discussing with groups in the community, women, or with family members.
It is as important to talk to families and partners as it is to talk to women about selfcare during pregnancy because they play an essential role in support and care of the
pregnant woman and are often the key decision-makers. They need to be aware of their
It is also important to consider the beliefs and practices that exist in your community
which might have an effect on self-care, or make it difficult for women or their families to
better care for the woman in the home. Some women may need more counselling than
others to help them follow the recommendations on self-care. Consider each woman and
her needs individually, and how you can best support her.

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Session 6

Communicating to groups
Care in the home of women during pregnancy is perhaps the most suitable topic for group discussions.
This is because the topic does not have to be personalized as it is not about specific situations or
individuals. As well as discussing general care issues with community groups, encourage them,
particularly groups of women, to discuss these issues among themselves. By sharing their experiences
women can support each other in identifying feasible solutions to problems they face. It is also a
source of comfort to hear that other women have been through similar experiences.

Encourage women to share their

experiences with one another.

Sometimes group discussions surrounding antenatal care are carried out in a very authoritarian
manner with little or no participation from the group. A health worker stands in front of the group and
tells them the things they should do, without considering the local context or finding out what women
already know and do, or without letting the group discuss and ask questions. With groups, your role
is to be a facilitator using the core principles outlined in the counselling process (refer to Session 2).
To be a facilitator means to promote participation so that all the skills and knowledge of the group
members are used. In other words, everyone should have the opportunity to participate and contribute
to the discussion. The facilitator needs to show warmth and empathy to encourage group members
to interact. You can also work with groups in other ways, for example, by breaking up into pairs or
small groups to discuss issues before presenting back to the wider group. Alternatively you could use
a brainstorm technique whereby people provide different ideas to be discussed or where you make
a list with the group about what they already know and practise. Remember to have them consider
the information you are presenting with the local practices, customs and traditions in mind. Together
you should discuss how they differ, share points of view and work towards finding a solution that
ensures the health of pregnant women.
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Another approach might be having educational material or an image such as posters or flipcharts to
serve as prompts and help initiate a discussion.
Although working in groups can be helpful, especially if time or resources are scarce, you must
still be aware of individual needs. It is possible to create a supportive environment for problemsolving within a group, but some womens problems will need your individual attention. Thus in the
individual antenatal care session with the woman, the different points can be summarized and you
can determine with her which points require more discussion and/or counselling.

With time and practise you can find ways to help people actively participate in group
discussions. For example, you can help to relax the group by getting everyone to say
something easy to begin with to get used to the idea of talking, like getting them to
introduce themselves and say when their baby is due.

Activity 2
90 minutes

To help you prioritize aspects of self-care

for counselling and communication with
women and their families.

This activity builds on Session 5 Activity 4 where you were observed facilitating a group.
This activity provides you with another opportunity to practise your group facilitation skills,
but in addition, helps you to practise communicating to partners and families about their role
in ensuring the pregnant woman has the care she needs in the home. Review the activity
and notes in Session 5 and your own notes, as well as the material in this session before
completing this activity.
1. Plan in advance a group work session with partners and family members of pregnant
women to discuss the needs of the woman during pregnancy.
2. Ask colleagues to watch and act as observers.
3. Conduct the session.

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Session 6

Activity 2 continued...
4. Following the session, ask for feedback from the group participants using the following
questions (or it may preferable for one of your colleagues to get the feedback from the
group, so that participants feel free to answer).
Were you able to say what you felt?
Were you given an opportunity to ask questions?
Were you able to share your knowledge with the group?
Did you disagree with anything the health worker had to say? Were you able to
express this disagreement easily?
Did you still have questions that are unanswered or points you would like clarified?
What are they?
Did you feel that the facilitator allowed everyone to participate? How did she do this?
Was the session interesting? Why or why not?
What do you think could have been done better?
5. Following the session, use the following checklist with your observers and yourself (in
addition to the questions above):
Was the information you provided clear?
Were you aware of the groups interactions?
Did you only give information or did you allow for discussions?
How did you handle peoples questions?
How did you handle opposing point of views?
Did you facilitate the identification of problems and solutions?
What did you do well and what do you need to improve?
How will you go about improving these skills?

Our View
Facilitating a group session is a skill you can learn with practise. In a group session,
you need to ensure that everyone has the chance to share their knowledge, express
their questions and concerns, and to participate in identifying problems and solutions.
But at the same time you need to lead the group and make sure that questions or other
information which you may not agree with is explored and discussed. At times, when
appropriate you need to be directive, for example, if one person is talking over another,
dominating the discussion or not sticking to the key points of the discussion. However,
you also need to find a balance; sometimes people want to bring in other issues which
are relevant for their situation. Each group you facilitate will be different because people
have different needs, knowledge and beliefs; your skill lies in being able to bring these
into the discussion and in being able to establish an atmosphere of trust where everyone
feels they can talk and participate freely.

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What did I learn?

In this session you have reviewed the information to be communicated to women and their
families about self-care during pregnancy. You have considered how to communicate in groups,
and how to encourage sharing and discussion of common problems and their solutions.
Now take some time to reflect on what you have learned in this session. Which skills do you
want to strengthen or develop further? Plan some time to practise them. You might like to think
about how you can involve partners and families more in the counselling process, and how
in particular you can get them to be more involved with the general care of women during
pregnancy. Use your notebook to write down your group work skills and to reflect on how
to improve these. You could also consider making some notes on how you might be able to
identify those women who will benefit more from additional one-to-one counselling. These may
be women with high-risk pregnancies, women with special needs such as adolescents, women
with multiple pregnancies, women with disabilities or women who show signs of abuse. Some
of the other sessions in this Handbook will help you to identify these women (refer to Sessions
2 and 16).

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Part 3: Topics



Session 7

What is in this session?

This session reviews the essential preparations for birth with a skilled attendant, either at a health
facility or at home, and describes how to prepare a plan with women and their families for birth and
for the possibility of an emergency.

What skills will I develop?

Open questioning: to support
women in developing a birth and
emergency plan
Providing information: to facilitate
the preparation of a birth and
emergency plan building on existing
Defining problems: to identify
possible problems, explore solutions
and generate alternatives, and take
action with the woman and with the
involvement of her family
Forming an alliance: to work with
the community to support birth
and emergency plans, including
available transport.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Appreciate the importance of interaction and counselling to support women in developing plans
for birth and emergencies.
2. Assess with women the availability and quality of community and social support available to them
and their families to implement their birth and emergency plans.

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WHO recommends that all women give birth with a skilled attendant who can provide
safe care for a normal labour and childbirth and manage or refer complications for both
the woman and newborn.
A skilled attendant is defined as an accredited health professional such as a
midwife, doctor or nurse who has been educated and trained to proficiency in
the skills needed to manage normal (uncomplicated) pregnancies, childbirth and the
immediate postnatal period, and in the identification, management and referral of
complications in women and newborn.
Source: World Health Organization, International Confederation of Midwives and International

Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. Joint statement on skilled attendants.

Geneva, World Health Organization, 2004

What is a birth and emergency plan?

As said above, WHO recommends that all women give birth with a skilled attendant. Based on the
womans health and other considerations, suggestions can be made by the health worker as to where
it would be best to give birth: in a hospital, health centre or at home but always with a skilled
attendant. In order to ensure birth with a skilled attendant, the woman and family must think out and
plan several elements in advance. This is also true in case of an emergency.
Most women have a healthy, normal pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum period. These women will
be cared for within their home and will receive health services at the first level of care the primary
health care level.
However, some women and newborn babies will have complications that require care at a higher
level. In many cases it is not possible to identify in advance which women or babies will face
these complications. It is important that a woman, her family and others in the community know
the signs of danger (refer to Session 8) and support the woman in reaching the care she needs. In
order for the woman to reach the care she needs in an emergency, the woman and family must also
prepare an emergency plan in advance.

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Session 7

The box below outlines some of the key questions to ask a woman and her family in order to help
them to develop a birth and emergency plan:


Where does she plan to give birth?
If birth is at home with a skilled attendant, ask:
Who do you choose to be the skilled attendant for birth? How will you contact the
skilled birth attendant to advise that you are in labour?
Who will be there to support you during labour and childbirth (your partner, family
member, friend, etc.)?
What supplies do you have ready for the birth? You will need the following items:
Clean cloths of different sizes, blankets, buckets of clean water and some way to heat
the water, soap, 3 bowls (2 for washing, 1 for the placenta), plastic for wrapping
the placenta.
Who will be close by for at least 24 hours after birth?
Is there anyone who can transport you to a health facility should sudden complications
If birth at a health facility, ask:
How will you get there? Will you have to pay for transport? How much will it cost?
Can you start saving for these possible costs now? (If not, discuss alternatives)
When will you go to the health facility? (advise on timing depending on how far
away the woman lives from the health facility and her health status)
How much will it cost for childbirth at the facility? Will you be able to pay these costs?
Can you start saving for these costs now? (If not, discuss alternatives)
Who will go with you to provide you with support during labour and birth? What
information do you want them to have about your past history and condition?
(see Session 10)
Who will help you to care for your home and other children while you are away?
What supplies do you have ready for the birth? You will need the following items:
Home-based maternal record, clean cloths of different sizes for the bed, for drying
and wrapping the baby and for you to use as sanitary pads; clean clothes for the
baby; food and water for you and your support person.

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To help the woman and family prepare for an obstetric or newborn emergency, ask:
What are the danger signs that indicate you should immediately seek care during
pregnancy? During birth (if birth is at home)? After birth for the mother? For the
newborn? (see session 8)
Where would you go for emergency care?
How will you get there?
Who will take you to the health facility?
How will you pay for transport? How much will it cost? Can you start saving for these
Encourage women and their partners to plan how they will get to the health facility.
possible costs now? (If not, discuss alternatives)
Who will stay with you to provide you with support?
Who will help you to care for your home and other children while you are away?
What costs will you have to pay at the health centre? How will you pay for these?
Can you start saving for these possible costs now? (If not, discuss alternatives)
Have you identified a blood donor in case it is needed? In other words, are there
relatives you can bring who share your blood group?

Encourage women and their partners to

plan how they will get to the health facility.

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Session 7

Skills for supporting planning

The process of planning for birth and a possible emergency involves the health worker asking the
woman a series of questions and supporting her to make decisions to establish the plans. In many
places, a woman may prefer to discuss this with her partner or a family member present - someone
who can support her in implementing the plan or in discussing it with the rest of the family. The skilled
attendant will require different skills to support women in developing birth and emergency plans.
These include questioning, providing information and facilitating problem-solving.

Asking questions
Finding out what information the woman or family already have and what additional information
they will need is a good way to help them to make decisions for birth and emergency planning. You
can do this by asking questions. Remember from Part 2 the difference between open and closed
questions. Once you understand what information the woman already has, you can then determine
any additional information you need to provide to help her assess the benefits and costs of the
different issues required for the birth and emergency plan, including whether to give birth at a health
facility or at home. At every antenatal care visit, the birth and emergency plan needs to be reviewed
and updated. Make sure to ask her about her situation at every visit; situations can change, the
woman may start to experience complications, or the home situation might change.
It is important to not only ask questions, but through the questions, support the woman and her family
to make decisions. Once they have thought through the different issues, it would be best to set down
the plan in writing, and provide the woman with a copy which she can take home to discuss with her
family. If she is not literate and there are many others in the community who also cannot read, perhaps
you can come up with some pictures to help convey the plan to others. There are also pictorial birth
and emergency planning cards available that make this easier. If your programme does not have
them, perhaps you and others can get together to design some and ensure copies are available to
work with those who do not read or write very well.
Make sure you remind her to bring the plan with her for every antenatal visit so that you can review
it together and make any changes as required.

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Birth and Emergency Planning



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Preferred loca


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re of the home
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Supplies for bi

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Estimated costs



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Possible blood

Sample of a birth and emergency plan.

Every pregnant women and her family should have a birth and emergency plan.
For women who are HIV positive, see Session 14 Activity to consider how her needs may
be different.

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Session 7

Activity 1
1 hour

To practise developing a birth and

emergency plan taking into account
local and cultural beliefs and practices.

The questions you have covered so far focus on the practical issues for a womans birth plan.
There are a number of other issues that can be planned for in advance which consider local
and cultural practices such as what to do with the placenta, positions for birth, foods and
drinks which she can take while in labour, etc.
1. Consider the local practices and beliefs surrounding birth that you know of in your community
and review the work you did for Activity 1 in Session 4. Talk to women to add to this list
and ask them who they would prefer to have present with them as a birth companion.
2. Carry out the same process you did for the activity in Session 4 for any new information by
grouping the issues under harmful, helpful and harmless practices.
3. As you make birth and emergency plans with women ask them which of the helpful or
harmless practices they would like to include in their plan. If they have included harmful
practices, discuss alternative solutions for these. Make sure you ask them to think about
birthing positions.
4. Review with them how they might include these practices and what, if anything, they might
need to have available for birth (e.g. a bag or box if they want to take the placenta home
with them).
5. If there are any practices which are helpful and harmless that require changes at the facility,
consider how you might be able to discuss with others and facilitate discussions between
the community and the health managers/workers to assure consideration and sensitivity for
local practices at the health facility.

Our View
Women will feel more comfortable giving birth in a health facility that shows awareness
of the local beliefs and practices (where they are not harmful). Discussing these beliefs
and practices in advance can help to ensure the woman knows what to expect, that you
have made the necessary arrangements together to address personal preferences, and
that she will be more at ease during birth.

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Birth and Emergency Planning

Providing information for birth and emergency plans

We have discussed that before birth there are a number of decisions that need to be taken in
advance. Discussing these points during routine antenatal visits will give the woman and family
more time to plan and prepare. Remember, your job is not to provide her with the solutions, but to
explore with her possible options. Once the options have been discussed, ask the woman or family
to consider the benefits and problems associated with each option until they can arrive at a decision
that suits their situation. You can then work together to make a plan of action to achieve the solutions.
Some women will prefer to give birth at home. Explore with the family their reasons for this decision.
If they want to deliver with a traditional birth attendant (TBA), family member or with no help, explain
to them the importance of having a skilled attendant who can provide the needed care for a routine
birth, but also manage any complications that may arise, ensuring the woman gets promptly to the
facility where life-saving treatment can be given. If there are good reasons why she should not give
birth at home, then try to explain to her why it is important that she gives birth at a health facility.
If birth is planned in the home with a skilled attendant, provide details on the needed preparations
(see below). She should review this information with the whole family. She may ask your help in doing
so. It would also be helpful if you could provide them with a list or some easy way to remember the
preparations they need to make.


Organize the following:
a clean and warm room or corner of a room
home-based maternal health record
a clean delivery kit which includes soap, a stick to clean under the nails, a new razor blade
to cut the babys cord, 3 pieces of string (about 20 cm each) to tie the cord.
clean cloths of different sizes: for the bed, for drying and wrapping the baby, for cleaning
the babys eyes, and for you to use as sanitary pads
warm covers for the woman and the baby
warm place for the birth with a clean surface or clean cloth
bowls: two for washing and one for the placenta
plastic for wrapping the placenta
buckets of clean water and some way to heat the water
for hand washing, water, soap and a towel or cloth for drying hands of the birth attendant
fresh drinking water, fluids and food for the mother.

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Session 7

IT IS IMPORTANT to make sure that women and families know the signs of labour.

If she has any of these signs she should go to the health centre or contact the skilled birth
attendant if planning to give birth at home, as soon as she can. If these signs continue for
12 hours or more, she needs to go immediately:
Painful contractions every 20 minutes or less.
Bag of water breaks.
Bloody sticky discharge.

Emphasize that complications can develop without warning and the family needs to be prepared to
leave quickly and to follow the advice of the skilled attendant in case of emergency.

Facilitating individual and household problem-solving

It is important to explore with each woman any problems or difficulties she expects in implementing
her birth and emergency plan. Do not assume that you understand why an issue can be a problem;
encourage her to tell you in her own words what the issue is, and then feed back this information to
her in different words to check that you have understood. Once you have clarified what the issue is
you can begin the process of problem-solving.
First work with the woman to analyse the problem, discuss possible causes, and generate possible
options for solving the problems. Then go through each option and discuss the advantages and
disadvantages of each these should be defined by the woman with your help, not defined solely
by you. It may be clear to the woman what solution she should take, or she may need to talk it over
with her partner or family, or just take time to think about it before she makes a decision.
In many societies, women alone do not make the decision about where to give birth. Remember the
work you did in Activity 2, Session 4 on decision-making. Many women must discuss the decision
in the household with other individuals; some women must follow the wishes of their families. When
working with a woman to develop her birth and emergency plan, it is important to know who else
in the family needs to be involved in making decisions. Help the woman think about how she can
discuss the birth and emergency plan with her family on her own. In some cases, she may want your
support in doing this. Encourage her to bring the family decision-makers with her to the antenatal
sessions, or, if you can, visit them at home. Your role as a facilitator is to help the family assess the
benefits and problems associated with each option for birth. You may have to act as a mediator to
help them reach a decision or take a step back and leave them to discuss together the information to
reach their decisions.

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Plans can be difficult to establish. There are many options and choices to weigh. Each
has its benefits and difficulties. Thinking about these in advance helps women and their
families consider the different options and consider which ones best meet their needs.

Establishing links with the community to support birth and

emergency plans
Health staff are not the only providers of care and support within a community. In addition to the
family there are many other people and places who can offer care and support to pregnant women
and women after birth, such as TBAs, womens groups, etc. Identifying these additional resources in
advance can help you to share the workload and offer continuity of care to women. In Session 17,
later in this Handbook, you will examine different ways to establish links with the community.
Complications and problems can happen quickly and unexpectedly during pregnancy, birth or in the
postpartum period. Planning in advance for what to do in an emergency can save time and lives. Everyone
in the community needs to be aware of the danger signs and what to do when they occur (see Session 8).
Sometimes communities have already developed plans to support care-seeking behaviour for birth
and emergencies. For example, many communities have organized a transport scheme like a bicycle
ambulance or a homemade stretcher to help women reach a skilled attendant for birth or to reach the
services in the case of an emergency. Some communities have organized finance schemes to support
families to meet expenses in the case of emergencies.
Other communities may still need to come together to develop a plan and you can be an important
source of support. You could facilitate the process of analysing current local problems and possible
solutions. You may also be able to provide ideas that community members might not have thought
about themselves.
Whether developing a community plan, drawing on an existing community plan, or an individual
family plan, they all need to be drawn up in advance and understood by the woman, her family
and the community.

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Session 7

What did I learn?

You can now outline the different elements to consider in developing a birth and emergency
plan. You can provide appropriate information, advice and support for exploring options and
for making decisions related to birth and emergency planning. You are also aware of the roles
that partners and other family members may have in making decisions and in providing support
for the woman during labour.
Which of these skills do you need to practise the most? Write these down in your notebook
so that you can remind yourself of the skills you have decided to focus on. Over the next week
or so, consider making notes on sessions with women where you have discussed birth and
emergency plans. Later reflect on these sessions with the following questions: What went well?
What could have been done better? What would I do differently next time?

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Part 3: Topics



Session 8

What is in this session?

It is important to share information with women and their families about the early detection and
recognition of danger signs and complications as part of birth and emergency planning. You need
to discuss with them what the danger signs are and help them to think about and decide where they
will go if they experience one or any of these.

What skills will I develop?

To provide information about danger
signs and complications during
pregnancy and childbirth
To support women in planning
where to go and how to get there
quickly if an emergency arises.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be
able to:
1. Know the danger signs and complications.
2. Be able to effectively communicate danger signs to women and their families.
3. Be able to effectively communicate how to access emergency care when a danger sign is

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Danger Signs in Pregnancy

Danger signs and complications

All pregnant women, their partners and families should be aware of the signs of complications and
emergencies and know when to seek care from the skilled attendant.


If any of the following signs occur, the woman should be taken immediately to the hospital
or health centre.
vaginal bleeding
severe headaches with blurred vision
fever and too weak to get out of bed
severe abdominal pain
fast or difficult breathing.
If she has any of these signs she should go to the health centre as soon as possible:
Abdominal pain
Feels ill
Swelling of fingers, face and legs

Communicating danger signs

Most women have uneventful pregnancies and childbirth but sudden and unpredictable complications
may happen at any time to any woman. Where problems do occur it is important to ensure that they
are acted upon without delay. You need to find a way to explain in familiar terms (using local words)
the danger signs, so that the woman, her family and others in the community can recognize them if
they should occur, and to ensure they know where to go in case of an emergency. It would also be
helpful here to refer to Session 7 on birth and emergency plans as many elements, including transport,
where the nearest health facility is located, and logistical details regarding persons to support the
family, should already have been discussed and planned in advance.

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Session 8

Activity 1

55 minutes

To begin reflecting on how to inform

pregnant women and their families on the
danger signs during pregnancy and build on
womens past experience where possible.

1. Review the list of danger signs above.

What problems do women and families have in identifying each of these? Are there
local terms that are used for any of them? Are there any local beliefs, explanations, or
ways of handling danger signs that stop people from seeking care in a timely manner?
How do women prioritize the main danger signs? Are there certain signs that they feel
need more urgent attention than others?
Are all women told about danger signs or just those women who are thought to be at
high risk?
2. Organize a discussion with a group of women. Ask the group for their past experience
with danger signs and complications.
Have any of the women experienced danger signs before? If so, how did they
recognize them?
What did they do? Who did they see?
Did they find transport urgently? If not, what could be done next time?
What information did they have or were there any gaps?
How could health workers have better prepared them?
3. Review the list of danger signs once again.
Is the community aware and able to recognize danger signs in pregnancy?
Think of ways to help the broader community in identifying danger signs and supporting
women to reach appropriate care in a timely fashion.
Do you or other health agencies currently discuss danger signs in pregnancy with the
broader community? What are the advantages of doing so?
4. What kind of support materials might improve the communication of danger signs?
Take into account the educational and cultural background of your audience (e.g. the
counselling context) and the resources you have to develop, or to obtain materials.
5. Finally, think about whether there are any other groups or providers in the community that
you could work with to help alert the whole community to the danger signs in pregnancy
and labour.

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Activity 1 continued...
Write down some ideas in your notebook that could help you discuss danger signs with
women and their families, both on a one-to-one basis and in a group setting.

Our View
WHO recommends that health services work with women, their families and the broader
community so that they have appropriate and comprehensible information on the danger
signs during pregnancy, as any woman can develop complications, and to ensure that
all are aware of where to seek care in the case of an emergency.
Explore with women what they know about danger signs and make sure they know
them all. Some danger signs are more difficult than others to recognize such as oedema.
When counselling women about danger signs you need to explore with them what is
normal, what is unusual and what is a danger sign.
The next important step is to help the woman and her family plan where they will go and
how they will reach the skilled attendant if they have any of these signs. Refer to Session
7 as much of this information should already have been discussed and drafted into a
birth and emergency plan.


Women and their families need to be able to recognize danger signs accurately and act
appropriately. For example, bleeding requires immediate transport to a health facility
because a woman, particularly with anaemia, can die in a matter of hours.
Knowing about the danger signs in advance will help communities and families implement
their birth and emergency plans.

If you have a highly literate population you might consider communicating all the danger signs in
a leaflet or fact sheet or some other method that can be given out at routine antenatal care. If your
population is less literate, you will have to rely on verbal or pictorial methods. It is difficult to remember
all the danger signs, particularly if a person has little formal education. You need to work with the
community and with other health providers to increase awareness of women and other community
members of the danger signs, and of the importance of reaching an appropriate care provider
urgently if any should appear. Once again it is important to ensure emergency transport schemes are
in place (Session 7).

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Session 8

All women and their families need to be given

information on danger signs.

Communicating danger signs without fear

Research has shown that using fear-based messages about danger signs is not effective unless used
It will be hard to communicate danger signs without creating fear. When discussing danger signs with
women and their families, provide a realistic description that would help them to identify the signs
in an emergency. Avoid frightening the woman with the worst-case scenario of what might happen.
While complications such as bleeding, obstructed labour or infection are relatively rare, the focus
should be on recognition of the signs and awareness of what to do if they occur. While as a health
worker you are used to seeing complications, remember for the woman it can be very frightening.
Reassure her that you will do everything you can to help her, try to alleviate her fears, and support
her, but remember to answer her questions and concerns truthfully. It will not be helpful to make false
promises or reassurances about pregnancy outcomes.

Pregnancy is a normal and natural process. Most women do not experience
emergencies during pregnancies, but any woman could. Women need to know
when to seek care from an appropriate provider. A good counsellor will get the
balance right between informing women and their families of the possible danger
signs and what to do, and supporting women and their families to enjoy their
pregnancy as a happy experience.

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What did I learn?

You have considered how to communicate danger signs to a woman and her family, as well
as the larger community. This has helped you to decide what format can be used to convey
issues relating to danger signs. Furthermore, it is important to link discussions of danger signs
with a concrete plan (such as the birth and emergency plan in Session 7) in order to ensure
that women and their families know where to go during an obstetric emergency, and how to
get there urgently.
Do you feel confident about communicating danger signs to women and their families? What
else could you do to improve the way you communicate danger signs? What kinds of support
materials can you develop? Who else can you work with in the community to raise awareness
of emergency signs and the importance of seeking appropriate care when they occur?
The next time you counsel a woman about danger signs, write up what happened and what
you did in your notebook. You could then share this with a colleague and ask for feedback on
what could have been improved or done differently, as well as what you did well.

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Session 9

What is in this session?

This session focuses on the specific counselling needs of women who have experienced an abortion.
This includes women who have experienced a miscarriage as well as women who have had an
induced abortion.

What skills will I develop?

Forming an alliance: Building a
relationship with the woman
Active listening
Empathy and respect

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be
able to:
1. Reflect on your own beliefs, attitudes and values.
2. Understand the key components needed to develop a relationship with the woman.
3. Demonstrate active listening skills.
4. Understand the key local resources in your area to support women.

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What is miscarriage and abortion?

The term abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy. Spontaneous abortion or miscarriage is an
unintended pregnancy termination. Induced (elective) abortion is an intentional pregnancy termination
by surgical, medical or other means.The emotional needs of a woman who has had an induced
abortion may differ from the needs of a woman who has experienced a spontaneous abortion.
However, in both circumstances, a wide range of emotions are common. Some women may feel
upset, anxious or sad. In the case of a spontaneous abortion a woman may worry that something she
did caused the pregnancy loss. Some women feel relieved after an abortion.
Your skill as a counsellor will be to support a woman in working through all the feelings and emotions
she may be experiencing (regardless of whether the abortion was induced or spontaneous), to help
her to deal with these emotions and with any practical issues such as how to tell other people, as well
as to support her in planning for the care she needs to take of herself thereafter.

What is post-abortion care?

The WHO PCPNC outlines the key clinical examinations, treatment and care that should be provided
to a woman who has experienced bleeding in early pregnancy or an abortion. If you do not have
access to the PCPNC, use the national guidelines for the management of post-abortion care. In
this session the focus is on developing your skills to improve counselling with women who have
experienced an abortion, and to respond to the information needs of these women.


WHO recommends the following advice be reviewed with a woman after
an abortion:
Some women prefer to rest for a few days, especially if they feel tired.
It is normal for women to experience some vaginal bleeding (light, menstrual-like
bleeding or spotting) for several weeks after an abortion.
Some pain is normal after an abortion, as the uterus is contracting. A mild painkiller
may help relieve cramping pain. If the pain increases over time, the woman should
seek help.
Change pads every 4 to 6 hours. Wash pad or dispose of it safely. Wash perineum.
Do not have sexual intercourse or put anything into the vagina until bleeding stops.
Practice safe sex and use a condom correctly in every act of sexual intercourse if at
risk of STI or HIV.
Return to the health worker as indicated.
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FAMILY PLANNING (See Session 12)
A woman can become pregnant as soon as she has sexual relations. Use a family
planning method to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and a condom to prevent
infection with STIs/HIV/AIDS.
Assuming there are no complications from the abortion, almost any contraceptive
method can be started immediately
Talk to the health worker about choosing a family planning method which best meets
you and your partners needs.
After a spontaneous or induced abortion, the recommended interval to the next
pregnancy is at least six months, both for the mother's and the baby's health.
If she has any of these signs she needs to go to the health centre immediately, day or
night. DO NOT wait:
Increased bleeding or continued bleeding for 2 days
Fever, feeling ill
Dizziness or fainting
Abdominal pain
Nausea or vomiting
Foul-smelling vaginal discharge.

In addition to these points, women may need to discuss with you issues related to resuming sexual
relations. Some women may not want to have sexual intercourse for some time afterwards. This may
continue even after she has physically recovered. These feelings may be complex and represent
fear of getting pregnant again, or grief or guilt related to a spontaneous or induced abortion. The
counsellor should try to provide support around this issue, starting with acknowledging to the woman
that this is a well-known effect after an abortion.

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Activity 1
1 to 1 hours

To reflect on your own beliefs and

attitudes with respect to spontaneous
and induced abortion.

Before beginning this session, it is important to first explore your own beliefs and attitudes
about spontaneous and induced abortion and towards a woman who has had an abortion,
as these can affect the support you provide her.
This activity should be done in a group. If you are working on your own, ask some colleagues
or friends to help you with this activity. Be prepared for some intense discussion, as abortion
is a topic about which many people hold strong opinions and which may be influenced by
religious values and other social norms.
Note to facilitator: if you have a group where everyone agrees with each other and you are
worried that certain beliefs or attitudes are being reinforced by the group, divide the group
into two smaller groups. Ask one group to agree with the statement and supply their reasons,
and the other group to disagree with the statement, also giving reasons. By exploring/
debating opposing views the participants will gain a deeper insight into different perspectives,
thus helping to generate a meaningful and thought-provoking discussion.
1. Discuss the following statements. Make sure everyone participates. Encourage differences
of opinion but protect each persons right to express her/his attitudes, values and beliefs.
You may find it useful to set some ground rules for the discussion such as: do not interrupt
one another, do not personalize information, and do not raise your voice. Remind the
group that there are no right answers.
A woman has the right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy.
If a woman deliberately induces abortion she is committing murder.
Women "cause" their own miscarriages.
Some women want to terminate a pregnancy as they are too poor to feed another
Women should feel guilty if they have had an abortion.
Women who deliberately induce abortion do not deserve the same level of care as
women who experience spontaneous abortion.
Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is a hard decision to make and women need
support and encouragement to carry out their decision.
2. Did everyone in the group have the same attitudes, values and beliefs?
3. Which statement caused the most disagreement?

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Activity 1 continued...
4. How did people feel if their beliefs, values or attitudes were different from the majority of
the group?
5. How might some of these attitudes, values and beliefs regarding spontaneous and induced
abortion be expressed directly or indirectly to women?
6. How do you think this might make them feel?
7. Think about your own responses - do you feel you have any negative attitudes towards
women who have had an abortion? What kind of support would you need to overcome
these negative attitudes? Do you feel or act differently towards women who have had a
spontaneous abortion or an induced abortion? Why do you think this is?

Our View
We all have different views about these statements. Holding a belief, value or attitude
different from the majority of the group can make you feel insecure or defensive. This will
help you to understand what it feels like in a situation where a woman knows that health
workers disagree or disapprove of her. Be aware that if you have very strong attitudes
and beliefs about abortion, you might communicate them indirectly through your body
language, tone or the courtesy and respect you show or even more directly to the woman
by telling her how you feel.
The health workers role is to support women to make decisions to take better care of
themselves. In order to do this, you need to discuss with women and this discussion can
only happen by treating all women with respect, including respect for their beliefs. Try to
overcome your own negative attitudes and beliefs and provide care and information in a
neutral and non-judgemental manner in order not to impair your counselling relationship.
If you feel unable to overcome your beliefs or attitudes, then you should ask a colleague
to take over from you.

How to provide information and support after an abortion

Women undergoing an abortion should receive clear, simple oral and written information about how
to care for themselves after leaving the health facility and how to recognise danger signs that require
attention. In addition, information and counselling should be provided on contraception. Women
may experience a range of different emotions after an abortion. The health worker can provide
needed support to them during this difficult time. Below we have outlined some different skills you will
need to do so, including:

Building an alliance with the woman

The counsellors first task is to build an alliance, or a partnership, with the woman. This alliance
serves as the foundation that encourages the woman to engage in the session. Building a relationship
is especially important after the trauma of an abortion. The important skills in building relationships
include showing empathy, overcoming beliefs, values and attitudes and active listening.
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Ability to empathize with the person you are counselling

Empathy means understanding the womans situation from her perspective and trying to focus on her
feelings. To empathize is to put yourself in the womans shoes and to try to see the situation as she sees
and feels it, taking into account the impact her family, education, culture and life circumstances will
have on these feelings. This can be a difficult thing to do, especially if we disapprove of the actions
someone has taken because of our own beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Ability to overcome beliefs, values and attitudes

Sometimes health workers do not want to provide services if they believe that the person has carried
out an action with which they disagree. They can also treat a woman rudely if they feel she is suffering
because of her own lack of knowledge or incorrect behaviour. This is particularly true in the case of
an induced abortion about which many people have strong beliefs and attitudes. Can you think of
examples of this where you work?
We all have values and beliefs and it is important not to impose these on others. Our values will have
come from our experiences and will change at different points in our lives. Within any community
it is unlikely that everyone will hold exactly the same attitudes, values and beliefs because they are
shaped by many factors related to individual experiences. While each person is entitled to her/his
own beliefs and attitudes, health workers have a professional obligation not to allow these to become
a barrier to providing care. It is important to take a look at yourself and to be aware of how your
own beliefs, values and attitudes influence how you interact with any individual woman, or influence
what you say and do.

Active Listening
Active listening is another step that you need to practise to build a relationship. Active listening is
about demonstrating that you are listening carefully. You can do this through gestures, sounds and
body language. You can repeat back what has been said to you. Other methods of active listening
include using questions which reflect that you have heard what the woman is saying. Refer back to
Session 3 for more details on active listening before you carry out the next activity.

Take time to clarify with your colleagues your different beliefs, attitudes
and values to abortion and how these might affect your counselling.
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Session 9

Activity 2
40 minutes

To help you improve your ability to

show empathy and respect, manage
your own attitudes, beliefs and values,
and practise your active listening skills.
This activity will build on the active
listening activity in Session 3.

If you are working alone you will need to find some other people to help you with this activity. If
you are working in a group, organize yourselves into groups of three a counsellor, a woman
and an observer.
1. The person playing the woman should take five minutes to make up a role-play focused
on the following example: A woman comes to a health facility with sepsis following an
induced abortion in the community which has gone wrong. Write down some notes to
help you remember your story.
2. The counsellor and woman should carry out the role-play with the observer watching. If you
are to play the counsellor try to show active listening through the use of body language,
gestures, sounds and repeating back what has been said to you. Try to demonstrate
empathy by expressions of understanding, including clarifying to her what you understand
the woman is feeling, in terms of her worries, concerns, emotions and needs. You also
need to be aware of your own values, attitudes and beliefs and how these may affect your
counselling and interactions with her.
3. As the observer try to look for two or three examples of things that the counsellor did which
demonstrated active listening and empathy appropriately. Comment on any aspects the
counsellor could improve. Could you tell what the counsellors attitudes, values and beliefs
were? Use the checklist below to help you provide honest and accurate feedback to the
person acting as the counsellor.
4. Ask the person playing the woman how she felt during the interaction. Did she feel at ease
to speak her mind? Did she feel that the counsellor understood her feelings? Her situation?
Her problems? What were the good things the counsellor did that helped her to feel
supported? What were things that could have been improved?
5. Switch roles so that everyone has the chance to play each of the different roles.

maintains good eye contact (where culturally appropriate)
nods and smiles at appropriate times
demonstrates open body language

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demonstrates empathy and respect through understanding/caring language

does not give direct advice but helps woman to explore her options
does not sound harsh or judgemental despite own beliefs and values
paraphrases questions back to show understanding
asks clarifying questions when the woman does not understand what is being said
allows an opportunity for the woman to ask questions.

Our View
You were probably very aware of being observed and it may have been difficult to
concentrate on active listening, showing empathy and being aware of your own feelings,
attitudes, values and beliefs. As you practise these skills when counselling women you
will hopefully find that they become easier to carry out. Use your notebook to reflect on
your skills following counselling sessions, until you feel more confident that you are able
to put into practice these different skills.

Evaluating needs for further support

Many women will need continued support following an abortion whether it is induced or spontaneous.
As you talk to the woman, her story may suggest other social or health concerns, such as concerns
about infertility, violence in the home or isolation. Find out from the woman if she is interested in
getting additional support and from whom she prefers that support. You can help the woman identify
someone she would like to talk to who could listen and help to share her feelings and emotions.
She might prefer anonymous support in the form of a counsellor or specialized counsellor if she has
a particular problem such as violence in the home (refer to Session 16) or infertility issues. Remember
she has a right to maintain privacy.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the abortion or miscarriage, she may or may not wish
to involve others such as her partner or family members. If she wants her family involved, together
you might be able to work out some emotional and practical ways that they can support her and
also talk to them about post-abortion complications so that they are aware of what to do and what
signs to look out for.
There may be other support mechanisms available in the community, or you may know of other
women who have experienced an abortion and who would be available for support. You and others
in the health centre should be aware of these possibilities and have the information available for those
women who need it.
In addition, it may be appropriate to refer a woman to other sexual and reproductive health services,
such as HIV/STI screening, cervical cancer screening or other preventative health measures.

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Session 9

Activity 3


To develop a list of sources of support

for women who have experienced an
induced or spontaneous abortion. This
activity links up with work you will be
doing in Session 17.

1. Talk to colleagues, other health care providers, volunteer organizations, NGOs, religious
and support groups to make a list of organizations that provide support to women following
both spontaneous and induced abortion.
2. Once you have made this list, make it available for staff in your workplace. Also consider
making it into a leaflet to give to women who have had an abortion. You could also
combine it with the information on danger signs following abortion.

Our View
This list of sources of support will be a useful tool for your staff in communication and
counselling. The list could be used as an aid to discussion and to facilitate counselling as
well as providing important information to women.

What did I learn?

You have reviewed your attitudes towards women who have experienced an abortion and you
should know if these present a barrier to how you provide them with care. You have examined
how to provide care and counselling in a non-judgemental way. You know the importance
of establishing a professional relationship with women, encouraging them to actively engage
in the session. You have practised your active listening skills and how to show empathy and
respect. You also made a list of additional support available for women following an abortion.
When counselling a woman after an emotional experience such as an abortion, you may feel
emotionally drained yourself. It is important to maintain an awareness of how you are feeling
and your own emotional state. Take some time now to reflect on what you can do to take
care of your own emotional needs. Write these things down in your notebook. They might
include activities such as talking through sessions with a colleague, friend or your mentor
(remembering to maintain confidentiality). They might involve doing something for yourself like
spending some time with your family, or taking a walk or any activity which you find relaxing.
Learn to recognize signs of stress in yourself and develop practical ways to relieve it.

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Session 10

What is in this session?

A childbirth companion (or social support during birth) has been found to improve the whole birth
experience. Research shows that women who receive good social support during labour and childbirth
tend on average to have shorter labours, to control their pain better and to have less need for medical
intervention. This session focuses on the emotional support, reassurance and respect that you can
give to a woman during the birth experience, and how you can encourage a childbirth companion
to take on some of these roles.

What skills will I develop?

Empathy and respect
communicating courtesy, maintaining
privacy and confidentiality, and
showing respect
Providing support, encouragement
and reinforcement.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Maintain privacy and confidentiality during labour and childbirth.
2. Maintain respect and courtesy to a woman in labour and her childbirth companion.
3. Demonstrate support and encouragement for a woman during labour and childbirth.
4. Communicate to the childbirth companion the value of their role and what it involves.

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Support and care throughout labour and birth

Labour can be a very frightening experience for women, especially first births. In addition, women
will experience physical sensations ranging from discomfort to severe pain. Helping the woman
to be as relaxed as possible and aware of her situation can help minimize the physical pain and
emotional distress of labour and birth. Women can be helped with this by receiving adequate care,
timely information, comfort, support and reassurance during labour and birth. It is also important to
maintain respect and courtesy whenever possible by explaining what you are going to do and why,
and by being courteous to her and her family. It is equally important to maintain respect for privacy
throughout the birth, by keeping the woman covered as much as possible for all procedures, or by
providing curtains.
It is important to be familiar with the birth and emergency plan (refer to Session 7) and to know if the
woman and family have any preferences regarding labour and birth. If a skilled attendant respects
the womans and familys preferences regarding labour and birth they are more likely to have a better
birthing experience.
In the birth and emergency plan, a woman will have also indicated a companion to support her
during birth, and this childbirth companion can take on a central supporting role.

Supporting the role of the childbirth companion

Women should be encouraged to have a companion of her choice present during labour and birth.
Some women like to have their husband or partner; others prefer a close family relative, friend, or a
traditional birth attendant (TBA). Experiences from different settings have shown that the best person
to have as a childbirth companion is often an older woman from the community, someone who
has had children herself. However, encouraging the husband/partner to be more involved with the
birth, where it is acceptable, may also be beneficial for the whole family. Birth is a very emotional
experience and for some people (especially the husband/partner) having more active involvement
can make the whole process particularly special.
Talk to the childbirth companion, either with the woman present or alone, to understand their feelings and
wishes. Give the birth companion practical information about his/her role and offer advice on things
he/she can do to help the woman. Providing support will draw on your skills and awareness of gender
and social norms (e.g. the counselling context) within the broader community. The childbirth companion
and skilled attendant should work together as a team during labour plan (as a team) how to do this
in advance when you discuss the birth and emergency plan (Session 7) with the woman during her
antenatal visits.
It can be useful to talk to the childbirth companion during pregnancy or at the onset of labour to find
out how much he/she already know about labour and birth, and to discuss with him/her what they
might expect to see and what he/she is expected to do. You should encourage the companion to
give support using local practices which do not disturb your work (and the rest of the health team)
during labour or birth. The companion can also help and encourage the woman to move around
freely as she wishes and to adopt the birthing position of her choice.
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Session 10

Discuss with the woman in advance any situations when the birthing companion may not be allowed
to remain in the room. If the health facility currently does not allow birthing partners to remain with
women who are giving birth, consider opening this topic up for discussion with your colleagues. Even
if you decide that companions cannot be there for the actual birth, you might consider encouraging
them to be there to support the woman during labour or to assist with breastfeeding and postnatal
care. Sometimes if there is little privacy in the birthing room it can be easier if the companion is
another woman instead of a man. Suggesting that women be encouraged to bring a female childbirth
companion can often overcome issues related to lack of privacy in the birthing room.

Activity 1
20 minutes

To draw up a list of roles the

childbirth companion can fulfil.

1. Draw up a list of tasks that the childbirth companion can carry out during labour. Think
of the possibilities, including practical tasks, emotional or supportive roles. How could
he/she help in the birth of the baby? Can he/she cut the cord? Try to make your list as
complete as possible.
2. What are some tasks that the childbirth companion should avoid doing? Why should they
avoid doing them?
3. Review your list with others in the facility. Does the facility have any regulations that you
need to consider before finalizing the list?
4. How can you best use the information you have drawn up to support a childbirth companion
in assuming the role? Consider producing material to be given out or a checklist to go
through with childbirth companions. When would be the best time to discuss this with

Our View
The key role of the companion is to help support, encourage and reassure the woman
throughout labour. The companion should always try to be with the woman and praise
and encourage her throughout the process. The companion can also carry out simple
tasks such as helping her to breathe and relax or rubbing her back, providing sips of
water as allowed, wiping her brow with a wet cloth, or doing other supportive actions.

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Activity 1 continued...
It is important to tell the birth companion what they SHOULD NOT DO and explain why:
DO NOT encourage the woman to push.
DO NOT give advice other than that given by the health worker.
DO NOT keep the woman in bed if she wants to move around.
DO NOT administer any local herbs or medicine.

Women who are supported by a companion of choice during labour and

birth often have a better birth experience.

During labour maintain communication with the woman and her companion. Maintaining
communication means informing the woman whenever possible of everything that is happening and
everything that you are doing or planning. Explain all procedures that will be carried out, even minor
ones. This will help to minimize anxiety and provide reassurance that things are routine. Before you
carry out any procedure, seek permission. This is part of courtesy and respect. You should also discuss
any measurements or results and their implications with the woman. Keep the woman and her family
informed about the progress of the labour. Labour can take many hours. Women need to know how
they are progressing. Women who have experienced labour before still need to have information on
their progress because labour is different for each woman.

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Session 10

Encourage self-care
Labour can sometimes take many hours and there are a number of things you can do to encourage
the woman (and her companion) to help her through the process. Encourage the woman to bathe,
shower or wash her genitals at the onset of labour and as often as she feels she wants to. Encourage
her to move around and get into the position she feels most comfortable in. It is also important to
encourage her to drink fluids and eat as she wishes throughout labour (as long as a C-section/surgery
is not indicated), and to empty her bladder frequently. You can also teach her breathing techniques.
Teach her to notice her normal breathing and then encourage her to breathe out more slowly, or to
pant at the end of the first stage or at the height of a painful contraction to prevent pushing. During
the birth of the head, ask her not to push but to breathe steadily or to pant.
Following the birth of the baby, it is important to maintain communication with the mother and
childbirth companion and inform them of how the baby is doing. Encourage skin-to-skin contact,
and put the baby directly on the mothers upper abdomen and cover both of them, ensuring skin-toskin contact that will help to stimulate breastfeeding. Keep them both warm in the immediate hours
following birth. It is also important to offer the mother drinks and food as she is likely to be dehydrated
following labour.

Talking to the woman

Often during labour, especially if a birth companion is present, health workers can sometimes talk
about the woman as if she is not there, or talk about her to the companion. Anything you have to say
should be directed to the woman. If you need to talk about her with colleagues or with the companion,
you should go elsewhere. Demonstrate respect talking about her when she can overhear you is not
respectful and not inclusive. It also may make her feel she is less in control of the situation.

Dealing with distress

Labour can be distressing for women and their families, regardless of whether there are any
complications. Women may scream or shout, or they may become uncooperative or difficult. As a
health worker it can be very hard to deal with women who are distressed in labour. It is important to
remain calm and focus on maintaining your professional relationship. Under no circumstances should
you raise your voice, complain that she is doing something wrong, or physically or verbally abuse
her in any way.
Women can become even more distressed if the labour or birth becomes complicated. It is important
that those around the woman remain calm. You are used to seeing difficult labour and birth, but most
women are not. Similarly her childbirth companion or family may also become distressed. Try to reassure
them all and advise them to remain calm and supportive to the woman to help her through the labour and
birth. It is especially important to maintain communication with the woman and her companion if there is
a problem with the baby. If you have to take the baby away immediately following birth, explain to them
as soon as you can what is going on and what you are doing.

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Support and reassurance

Labour is physically and emotionally demanding. Women need to be praised, encouraged and
reassured that things are going well and that they are doing what is necessary for the safe birth of
their baby. We all respond better to encouragement and support. A woman who is discouraged or
made to feel she is doing something wrong is less likely to endure her labour well.
Let the childbirth companion know his/her job is to encourage the woman to do what she feels she
needs to do to feel comfortable during labour. This may mean walking around or changing position
frequently. Some women like to be held, or to have their backs rubbed or to have someone to help
them with their breathing.

Work with the woman and her companion to find out what she wants to do and how
she wants to be supported and helped through her labour. Ask open-ended questions,
paraphrase and provide feedback on what she has said for clarification. Avoid giving
her orders. You can make suggestions that may help her but respect her choices if she
does not want to follow your suggestions.

Confidentiality and privacy

The companion also needs to be kept informed on the progress of the labour and of any complications
or difficulties. First, find out from the woman how much or what information she wants shared with the
companion, and what she wants to remain confidential. It is best to find this information out during
pregnancy when you are discussing her birth and emergency plan (Session 7). Be careful to maintain
the confidentiality and privacy (both seeing and hearing) of the woman. If you have to carry out any
physical examinations ask her whether she wants her companion present, and get her consent before
you touch her body. Refer back to the guidelines on confidentiality you made in Session 5.

Encourage women to change

positions and find what is
comfortable for them.

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Session 10

What did I learn?

You have considered the ways you can help to support and encourage a woman during
labour and birth. You have considered how to involve childbirth companions in a caring way
and how to maintain courtesy, confidentiality and respect.
You have learned to support the woman by encouraging her to move into positions she feels
comfortable in and to walk around. You have also learned the value of the role of her birthing
companion, and of the need to provide accurate information on her labour progress or any
complications which may arise.
Make some notes in your own words following this session to help you remember and revise
the key points. You might also consider asking a colleague whom you trust to comment on your
interactions with a woman and her companion during labour and birth, particularly during the
stressful times of a birth where the woman might be in distress and uncooperative.

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Session 11

What is in this session?

In this session we review the key information to be communicated to women who have just given
birth and their partners and/or families. This covers general care of both the mother and the baby
as well as danger signs in the postnatal period. Special mention is made for supporting women
with depression.This topic is used to practise the skills of facilitating family and group support and
respecting the concerns of women. See Session 12 on birth spacing and postpartum family planning
and Session 13 on breastfeeding which are also important counselling topics for women and their
families immediately after birth.

What skills will I develop?

Facilitating family and group support
of women
Respecting the concerns of women
Providing information on postnatal
care and danger signs in the new
mother and baby
Tailoring to the specific needs of the
depressed postnatal woman.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Communicate key information on postnatal care including complications for the mother and baby.
2. Provide support to women with depression.

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Care of the mother and newborn after birth

Some women will give birth in the home with a skilled attendant; others may not have a skilled attendant
present. Some women who give birth in the facility will spend time there following childbirth. WHO
recommends that a women not be discharged before 24 hours after birth. Regardless of the place
of birth, it is important that someone accompanies the woman and newborn for the first 24hours
after birth to respond to any changes in her or her babys condition. Many complications can occur
in the first 24 hours. Following childbirth at home, it is important that the mother and baby receive a
postnatal examination as early as possible, preferably within 24 hours of birth. If the birth was at a
facility, mother and baby should receive a postnatal examination before discharge.
There are a number of important points to discuss with the woman and her family following birth to
ensure that the woman has adequate care. See the WHO PCPNC for additional information.


The importance of having someone nearby for the first 24 hours.
The importance and recommended timing of postnatal visits.
The importance of the new mother eating more and healthier foods discuss in the
context of local practices and taboos to ensure women have access to good nutrition.
The new mother should also drink plenty of clean, safe water.
The importance of rest and sleep and the need to avoid hard physical labour.
Discussion of normal postpartum bleeding and lochia discuss with women how
much blood loss they can expect, for how long. When bleeding is more than normal,
they should seek care urgently.
Discuss the danger signs for the woman and baby and the importance of seeking
help quickly.
Personal hygiene in the context of local practices and the environment. Discuss with
women the type of pads they will use and their disposal, and care of episiotomy in
the context of home conditions. Hand washing is particularly important to prevent
infections. It is also important not to insert anything into the vagina.
Talk to them about when they can resume sexual relations and the importance of
condom use to prevent STI and HIV transmission (see Sessions 12 and 14). Sexual
intercourse should be avoided until the perineal wound heals. Discuss the importance
of birth spacing and counsel on the use of a family planning method.
Discuss infant feeding and breast care (see Session13) and the importance of only
taking prescribed medicines when breastfeeding.
Discuss the importance of the home environment for promoting the health of the
baby and recovery of the mother. For example, discuss the need for warmth, good
ventilation and hygiene for both mother and baby.
In an area with malaria, discuss the importance of mother and baby sleeping under
an insecticide-treated bednet.
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Timing of postnatal visits

Following childbirth the woman and newborn should be examined within 24 hours by a health worker.
At this time also discuss with the woman and family the timing of subsequent visits and the immunization
schedule for the baby. WHO recommends that the mother and baby be visited at home by a trained
health worker, preferably within the first week after birth. If your facility does not carry out home visits,
discuss with the mother how she will come to the facility or local clinic for these scheduled visits. These
visits early in the postnatal period are important for the mother and baby. It is also an important
opportunity to ensure the establishment of breastfeeding and address any difficulties with attachment
and positioning.

How to provide information and support for the care of the mother after birth
The PCPNC provides a list of practical tasks that need to be carried out following birth, if you do not have
the PCPNC you should follow the norms and standards established in your facility. Explain the reasons
behind the tasks you are carrying out and discuss with the woman any advice or recommendations
you have for her to ensure appropriate care in the home during the postnatal period (refer to the points
above). Encourage her to ask questions during the examination and use your active listening skills to
reflect on and clarify what she is telling you. Help her to think of ways she can implement your advice.
Sometimes, when women are unsure or hesitant they voice concerns in an indirect manner rather than
directly raising an issue. Be aware of her body language and the non-verbal signs she may be showing
you. Repeat back to her in different words what you think she is saying to see if you have understood.
At the end of the postnatal examination, remind her that she can come to the health facility at any time
if she has questions, reassure her and make sure she feels supported.


First visit (could be a home visit) within 1 week, preferably on day 3
Second visit 7-14 days after birth
Third visit 4-6 weeks after birth
Explain subsequent immunisation schedule

Sexuality issues
These visits are a good time to discuss sexuality issues. Often the woman will come to see you or be
on her own at home with the baby. This can give you more privacy to discuss topics about which she
may feel shy. The timing of when a couple resume sexual relations after childbirth is often guided by
local sexual practices. Different communities and religious groups have different suggested periods
of abstinence after childbirth. It would be useful to be aware of this and to be respectful of these
practices. A woman is often embarrassed to ask when she can resume intercourse and may already
be pressured by her husband or partner. In some cases, the partner may have had sexual intercourse
outside the relationship during the period of abstinence following childbirth and hence the woman
may be at risk of contracting STIs and HIV.

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Make women aware that a health worker may come for a home visit for postnatal care three
days after birth. Encourage women to return to the health facility with their newborn babies for
routine health checks or if any danger signs are present

It is important to tell women about the changes to her body after childbirth that may affect resuming
sexual relations. The tiredness that many women feel after childbirth means that they often have little
desire for intercourse. The first time they have sex may be painful especially if they had stitches to their
perineum. Damage and strain to their internal pelvic muscles which happens during childbirth will
mean that sex may feel different. Many women will need information about these normal changes
and some reassurance that these things usually improve with time.

Providing adequate care in the home

In the immediate weeks following childbirth women need extra care, including partner and family
support. Labour and childbirth are physically demanding, as is breastfeeding and looking after a
newborn baby. It is therefore very important that women regain their strength and maintain their health
as they adjust to life with their new baby.
Women in the postnatal period need to maintain a balanced diet, just as they did during pregnancy.
Iron and folic acid supplementation should also continue for 3 months after birth. Women who are
breastfeeding require additional food and should drink sufficient clean water. You should spend more
time on nutrition counselling with women who are very thin and with adolescents who may need
additional information to help them get a balanced diet. In some cases you may need to refer women
to a nutrition counsellor, where available. It is important to note that poverty may prohibit women from
accessing certain foods. Exploring less expensive options can be a helpful part of the counselling
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Advise the woman to eat a greater amount and variety of healthy foods, such as
meat, fish, oils, nuts, seeds, cereals, beans, vegetables, cheese and milk to help her
feel strong and well (give examples of how much to eat).
Reassure the mother that she can eat any normal foods these will not harm the
breastfeeding baby.
Discuss any taboos that exist about foods which are nutritionally healthy.
Talk to her partner or other family members to encourage them to ensure that the
woman eats enough and avoids hard physical work.
The first few weeks with a new baby are very demanding, physically and emotionally. Women need
to rest and take care of themselves as they recover from labour and birth. This often requires that other
family members and friends help out. Work with families to make sure everyone is aware of the care
a mother needs. Use your questioning skills to find out whether women are looking after themselves
and find out the level of support they are getting from their families. Find out if she is getting enough
rest and support. Work with her to identify ways that this could be improved. The postnatal period is
a time when you may have to discuss issues with the family as a whole to help them identify solutions
to problems that may have arisen since the birth. Some women are overwhelmed following the birth
of a child, but despite this they feel that they must get back to their usual routine as quickly as possible
to show that they are coping. As a health worker, you need to be able to identify women who are
coping, from women who are having trouble coping.
During each postpartum visit you should also discuss how breastfeeding is progressing (see Session
13). Also talk to women about any plans they have to return to work or school, how this might affect
breastfeeding and the care of the baby. Find out whether they have made any plans and review them
together, or help them to make a plan if they do not already have one.

Danger signs for the woman

All women and their families need to be aware of danger signs during the postnatal period. Review
the emergency plans they made during pregnancy and see whether they are still valid. Remind
women to bring their maternal health record with them even for an emergency visit. It is important
that you discuss danger signs with every woman as the majority of maternal deaths occur in the first
week after birth. Consider making a tool or an aid for women to take home with them following birth.

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She should go to the hospital or health centre immediately, day or night.
SHE SHOULD NOT WAIT if she has any of the following danger signs:
vaginal bleeding has increased
fast or difficult breathing
fever and too weak to get out of bed
severe headaches with blurred vision
calf pain, redness or swelling; shortness of breath or chest pain.
She should go to the health centre as soon as possible if she has any of the following signs:
swollen, red or tender breasts or nipples
problems urinating, or leaking
increased pain or infection in the perineum
infection in the area of the wound (redness, swelling, pain, or pus in wound site)
smelly vaginal discharge
severe depression or suicidal behaviour (ideas, plan or attempt)

The birth of a new baby can lead to many emotional changes. Many women go through a period
of mild depression following the birth of a baby. There is a need to differentiate between postnatal
blues (feeling down) which usually occur in the first week and can last up to two weeks after birth,
and postnatal depression which is much more severe and usually lasts for a longer period. You may
well have a local word for the mild depression or blues that women experience following birth. Use
this word when you discuss the topic with women and their families to differentiate it from postnatal
depression, which is different.
When the mother experiences low energy, fatigue, sleep or appetite problems, then she may have
postnatal blues. True postnatal depression is when a woman is depressed considerably for more than
two weeks, enough to disturb her routine activities. She may also experience any of the following:
persistent sad or anxious mood, irritability
low interest in or pleasure from activities that used to be enjoyable
difficulties carrying out usual work, school, domestic or social activities
negative or hopeless feelings about herself or her newborn
multiple symptoms (aches, pains, palpitations, numbness) with no clear physical cause.
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In addition she may be suffering from guilt or have negative feelings towards herself or her newborn.
In some cases a woman may feel so depressed that she wants to end her life. If you identify a new
mother with depression then you should refer her as soon as possible to the nearest health care facility.
Support groups can also help. If that is not possible then you may need to support her through this
period yourself. If possible, meet her on a regular basis and use your skills to show empathy, listen to
her and support her. Ask her consent to discuss with a family member or friend who she feels may also
be able to provide her with support. Involve her in social activities and activities that used to make her
happy in the past. If depression is mild, regular physical exercise can help a lot.

Supporting depressed women

Women who have depression need emotional support. Reassure them that this is usually a temporary
condition that happens to some women who have given birth. It sometimes helps if women know that
feeling depressed following the birth of a baby is normal and many women experience these feelings.
Try and talk to the womans family and explain to them the need for extra support at this time. Verify that
she and the newborn are getting the care they need.
Some relatives and even sometimes health workers may not take the concerns of women they see seriously.
If women feel their concerns are not taken seriously, this may make them feel inadequate as mothers,
which will contribute to their depression. Some mothers may not be able to care for themselves or their
baby properly. This is particularly true for women with special needs and adolescents in particular. Under
no circumstances should anyone verbally or physically
abuse a mother who is having problems caring for her
Reflect on your own attitudes towards women who
suffer from the postpartum blues or a more severe form
of sadness and depression. Have you been able to be
supportive of them? Do you think this is a serious issue?
How prevalent is it in your community? What is the attitude
of the community towards women who are experiencing
postnatal depression? Discuss with some colleagues to
get their impression about how many women may suffer
from this. Interview some women who have recently
given birth and ask them if they have felt any of the signs
mentioned in the box on the previous page.
You can play a vital role in encouraging the partner and
family to listen to the woman and to be sensitive to her
condition. You can encourage them to offer practical and
emotional support and to reassure her. Try to maintain
regular follow-up with women who are suffering from
depression and their families, to ensure they are getting
the support they need.
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Offer practical and emotional support to women

who are suffering from depression after birth.

Postnatal Care of the Mother and Newborn

Activity 1
1 hour

To help you find ways to support women

who are experiencing depression or who
require additional emotional support.

Although this activity is written in the context of depression following birth, there will be many
other times when you have to counsel depressed women or women who are feeling sad.
Women with special needs may be more likely to experience periods of intense sadness or
depression and may require additional emotional support.
In addition you or your colleagues may also suffer from periods when you require extra support
and understanding as a consequence of the roles you have to play and the support you give
to others. The tasks you carry out in this activity can be used for all the women you see, as well
as for your colleagues and yourself!
1. Write a list of things that a woman can do for herself to improve her mental health. For
example, walking, resting and quiet time, spending time with friends, praying or singing
2. Write a list of things that other family members can do to support her, such as helping
out with the work load, sitting and listening to her, providing an environment of care and
3. Now write down things that a group of women could do to help improve their mental
health. For example, giving one another emotional or practical support or discussing
problems and sharing solutions.
4. Do any support groups currently exist in the community? How could you help women in
your community to start their own support groups or to better support each other?
5. Discuss the lists with colleagues and finalize them together. Distribute copies of the list so
you and your colleagues can use them as a resource with women who are experiencing
mental or emotional health problems.
6. In cases where depression is so severe that it does not respond to your interventions, are
there more specialized counsellors available to whom you can refer?

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Activity 1 continued...

Our View
Women often find it beneficial to have a group of people with whom to discuss and share
their problems and emotions. Some women get support and reassurance from their
partners and families but for others a group outside the home might be more beneficial.
Women can help one another think through problems and generate options that help to
solve these problems.
Find out if a support group exists, and build on this group. If none exist, you could start
a new group but starting up a support group can be a difficult and time-consuming task.
You could encourage new mothers to consider forming a group. Provide suggestions for
what they might discuss and help them set ground rules for privacy and confidentiality.

If the mother suffers most of the time and cannot function normally, neglects herself and/
or the baby, you need to refer her to more specialized help. Health workers or counsellors
trained to treat depression can offer more advanced psychosocial treatments or if this
does not work, they can prescribe some medication, or refer to mental health specialists.
If there is a risk of self harm, or the mother is having thoughts about suicide it is important
that she gets urgent help and support and is not left alone. Remove means of self harm
and assign someone to ensure her safety while you arrange specialist mental health care.


meeting a friend
getting out of the home or walking, or things which help them to let their feelings out
singing, drawing or writing
spiritual relief through prayer
Support the woman in whatever way you can. This may include a home visit and/
or extra postpartum appointments. Encourage her partner and family to support her
practically and emotionally.

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How to provide information and support for the care

of the newborn after birth
In addition to physically assessing the newborn, you will need to be able to communicate effectively
with the mother, father and family to assess how the newborn is doing. You need to provide practical
guidance and support for breastfeeding (see Session 13) as well as information on cord care and
other care in the home for the baby.
As you ask the mother questions, remember to use simple, appropriate language. Treat any concerns
she raises about her baby or her role as a mother with respect, even if her worries might appear
unnecessary to you. You should maintain her trust at this time so that she will come to you when
she has other concerns, which you may consider more serious. All mothers (but especially first time
mothers) need lots of support and reassurance that they are caring for their babies appropriately. You
can communicate some of this information by active demonstration, for example, showing the new
mothers how to hold or lift a baby, so that they can see what to do, and giving them opportunities to
ask questions and clarify any problems.

It is important to provide mothers, fathers and families with practical advice on how to
care for the baby during the first few days.
Keep the baby warm - a baby should wear 1-2 layers more than an adult. If cold,
put a hat on the babys head.
Care for the umbilical cord. Do not put anything on the stump.
Keep the baby clean. It is not necessary to wash the baby every day, but wash babys
face and bottom when needed. Make sure the room is warm when undressing baby.
Provide nothing but breast milk day and night.
You should see a health worker on day 3 and between 7 and 14 days and 4-6 weeks
after birth. At the 6 week visit the baby will be immunized.
Let the baby sleep on his/her back or side.
Keep the baby away from smoke.
It is not recommended to expose the baby to direct sun.

Some women may need extra support with a particular issue such as breastfeeding. Women may
also want information or support about any problems that their babies have. Remember when an
issue is raised the first thing you should do is find out how much the woman already knows and what
she is already doing many times she is doing the right things and just needs reassurance. If there are
problems which she identifies, follow the counselling procedures you have been practising to help her

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identify possible solutions. Together with her, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of solutions
and put together a plan of action that she feels she is able to carry out.
At this time you may also want to review any local practices that families may want to carry out with
the baby. Discuss with them the consequences of some practices which may be harmful (Review the
list of harmful, harmless and helpful practices you developed in Session 4 Activity 1).

Danger signs for the newborn

In addition to advising parents and the family on general care of the newborn, it is important to alert
them to danger signs.
As for the mother, there are also danger signs for the newborn that mothers and families need to
identify and respond to immediately. Think about how to discuss and review this information with
families. Consider obtaining or developing support materials, which will help you to communicate this
information more effectively and that will help women and their families to remember the danger signs.


Advise the mother and family to seek care immediately, day or night. They should not
wait if the baby has any of these signs:
difficulty in breathing or indrawing
feels cold
not feeding
yellow palms and soles of feet
The mother and family should go to the health centre as soon as possible if a baby has
any of the following signs:
difficulty feeding (poor attachment, not suckling well)
is taking less than 8 feeds in 24 hours
pus coming from the eyes or skin pustules
irritated cord with pus or blood
yellow eyes or skin.
ulcers or thrush (white patches) in the mouth - explain that this is different from
normal breast milk in the mouth
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When explaining the danger signs to parents and caregivers, when possible show them what you are
describing. Use the baby as a visual aid and for example, show them the normal breathing, show them
where pustules might appear, or where the redness of cord infections will be seen. Take some time to observe
normal feeding patterns, techniques and positioning and discuss the most common difficulties they are likely
to experience.

Advise families on the importance of birth registration. Consider making a list or
instructions on where and when to go that you can give to families.

Newborn babies with special needs

A baby who had difficulties breathing at the time of birth and needed resuscitation should be carefully
monitored over the next 24 hours, with particular attention to the danger signs in the newborn. For these
babies it is particularly important that they are kept warm and that extra attention is paid to the initiation
of breastfeeding. These babies may have some difficulties in starting to breastfeed and the mother and
baby might need more support. It is also important to explain to the parents of the baby what happened
at the time of birth and the possible consequences of their baby not starting to breathe by him/herself,
such as developmental delays.
Some babies are born very small, either because they have been born before nine months, or because
their growth was restricted in the uterus. Mothers who are very young; who are expecting twins; who
are involved in hard physical work during pregnancy; or who are over- or underweight, anaemic or
have suffered from malaria or another infection during pregnancy; are at greater risk of giving birth
before time or giving birth to a low birth-weight baby. Low birth-weight babies or babies born under
2500 gs are at greater risk of infections and dying. Make sure the parents of low birth-weight babies
are aware of the danger signs in the newborn and know to seek help quickly. In particular, low birthweight babies may have difficulties with breastfeeding. See Session 13 on breastfeeding for further
information on how to support the mother of a low birth-weight baby to breastfeed.
Low birth-weight babies can be cared for using Kangaroo Mother Care. The Kangaroo Mother Care:
Practical guide published by WHO (http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_
perinatal_health/9241590351/en) gives further information on how to initiate Kangaroo Mother care
in hospital. Kangaroo mother care involves skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby and exclusive
breastfeeding. It allows the mother and baby to bond, while also keeping baby warm and able to
breastfeed often.

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Activity 2

1 hour

To practice your skills at counselling new


This is a role-play activity. If you are not working through the Handbook with a group, try to
find two colleagues who can help you with this role-play. If you are part of a group, take turns
playing the role of the new mother and the health worker.
This activity will build on some of the skills you practiced in Activity 2 in Session 9. Remember to:
maintain eye contact, where culturally appropriate, nod and smile at appropriate times
demonstrate open body language
demonstrate empathy and respect through understanding/caring language
do not sound harsh or judgemental, despite your own beliefs and values, or the time
constraints of your job
ask open-ended questions and listen actively
do not give direct advice, but explore what the mother already knows
paraphrase questions back to check understanding
build on the mothers knowledge, so she can best engage in a solution.
Take some time to discuss the reasons mothers come to the health facility with their newborn.
Make a list of possible scenarios. The person playing the mother can choose one and start the
role play. For example:
A young mother brings her 2-week old baby to the clinic with an infected umbilicus. Her
mother-in-law had insisted it was necessary to apply a poultice to the cord.
An adolescent mother brings her 1-week old baby in with a very mild rash, but really she
wants to find out about family planning, as her boyfriend is pressuring her to resume sexual
A mother with 4 children and a new baby comes in complaining of fatigue. She looks sad,
overwhelmed and she has been crying.
A mother comes in for a routine check-up at 6 weeks. She is very thin and weak.
Think of other scenarios that you have encountered in your work, or that might occur in the
community and setting you are working in.
The person doing the counselling should also consider:
What open questions you can use to establish two-way communication and put the mother at
Have you explored what it is about the mothers situation that prevents her from addressing her
and her babys needs?
Have you avoided using judgemental questions?

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Activity 2 continued...
Have you reflected back what the mother said and built on her knowledge?
What information can you give her and how can you work with her to find a solution?
One participant should observe the role-play. S/he will comment afterwards on what the
person playing the health worker did well and make suggestions on how to improve the
counselling session in future. Try to point out what was good in the counselling session and
then make some suggestions about what could be improved next time.

What did I learn?

You should be able to communicate the essential messages relating to care of the mother
and the newborn in the home after birth. You have learned the danger signs in the postnatal
period for the woman and newborn and thought about how best to communicate these to
women and their families. You have also learned how to care for and support women who
are experiencing depression and how to mobilize support from families, communities and
other women in similar situations. Remember, that often we ourselves may need support after
providing emotional support to others. Some of the aids discussed here may be of use to you
and your colleagues.
To help yourself, remember to reflect on what you are doing and how you are feeling. Take
time for yourself to recharge your batteries, particularly if you have been through an emotional
or stressful experience at work. Use your notebook to record your thoughts and feelings and
share these with a trusted colleague if you think that will help, or identify other things you can
do for yourself. Remember, an exhausted, unhappy health worker is unlikely to be able to
provide the care and support the woman or family need.

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Part 3: Topics



Session 12

What is in this session?

It is important to help women and their partners to gain increased control over their reproductive
health. One of the main ways you can do this is through counselling on family planning methods
during late pregnancy, the postpartum and the post-abortion periods.

This session only provides an introductory overview on
family planning counselling. If necessary and where
possible, you should refer women to see a trained
family planning provider and/or use family planning
support materials, such as the WHO Decision-Making
Tool for Family Planning Clients and Providers.


What skills will I develop?

Providing information that builds on
existing knowledge
Facilitating shared problem-solving
and decision-making
Tailoring to specific family planning

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Assess the family planning needs of individual women
2. Communicate information on the importance of birth spacing and on family planning method use.
3. Communicate information on the importance of family planning in the postpartum and postabortion periods.

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Family Planning Counselling

Birth spacing and postpartum family planning

Family planning is about deciding how many children you choose to have and when you want to
have them (timing of pregnancies and birth spacing). The recommended interval before attempting
the next pregnancy is at least 24 months in order to reduce risks to the mother and infant. A woman
can become pregnant within several weeks after birth if she has sexual relations and if she is not
breastfeeding exclusively. It is important that as a health worker you discuss the importance of family
planning and birth spacing, and help couples in choosing the contraceptive method that is right for
The role of family planning counselling is to support a woman and her partner in choosing the method
of family planning that best suits them and to support them in solving any problems that may arise with
the selected method. During late pregnancy, after giving birth and after an abortion, it is important that
the woman or the couple receives and discusses correct and appropriate information so that they can
choose a method which best meets their needs. If a woman, preferably with her partner, is able to make
an informed choice, she is more likely to be satisfied with the method chosen and continue its use.


Delaying having children can give people the opportunity to complete education or
further studies
Waiting to become pregnant at least 24 months after birth can lead to health benefits
for the mother and baby.
Spacing births allows the mother to recover physically and emotionally before she
gets pregnant again, and faces the demands of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
Limiting the number of children in a family means more resources for each child and
more time for the parents to dedicate to each child.
Family planning can also help couples in a sexual relationship not to be worried
about the woman getting pregnant.
STIs including HIV/AIDS can also be prevented with correct and consistent use of
Younger women (adolescents) can delay pregnancy until their bodies are mature
and they are ready in terms of their life course.
Older women (over 35) can prevent unwanted pregnancies that are often risky for
their health and can lead to complications for both mothers and infants.

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When to counsel on birth spacing

You should begin discussing family planning during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester,
after birth and in the immediate postpartum period. Pregnant women need to know that if they are
not exclusively breastfeeding they can get pregnant as soon as four weeks after the birth of their
baby, even if they have not yet started their menstrual cycle. Several methods of family planning can
be started immediately after birth, but others may need to be delayed if the woman is breastfeeding.
If the woman wants female sterilization or an Intrauterine Device (IUD) inserted immediately after
childbirth, she should inform her birth attendant and plan to give birth in a health facility.
Advise women about the benefits of using breastfeeding as a family planning choice, known as
the Lactational Amenorrhoea Method (LAM). LAM provides protection when the following three
requirements are met:
1. the woman is exclusively breastfeeding a baby, day and night
2. during the first six months after birth and
3. her menstrual periods have not returned.

Exclusive breastfeeding means that the baby is not given any other food or drink, not
even water. She or he is only given breast milk. See Session 13 for more information on

Once the baby reaches six months, or receives complementary foods or the mothers periods have
returned, she should use another family planning method. Before this time she needs to start thinking
about what method she will use after LAM.

Counselling a woman on family planning after an abortion:

When advising a woman how to care for herself after an abortion (see Session 9 as well), remember
that it is important to discuss the use of a family planning method to prevent another unwanted
pregnancy. Explain that she can become pregnant as soon as two weeks after an abortion if she
begins to have sexual relations. A woman who has recently experienced an induced or spontaneous
abortion should wait at least six months before another pregnancy to reduce risks to her health and
to her future baby.

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Family Planning Counselling

You can support her and her partner in choosing a method that meets their needs:
If she has no post-abortion complications or infection, she can safely use any family planning
method, and can start all methods immediately post-abortion (except for the natural calendar
method, when she should wait for 3 months).
If an infection is present or suspected, advise her to avoid intercourse until the infection is ruled
out or fully treated. Delay female sterilization and IUD insertion until an infection is fully treated,
but offer other methods to use in the meantime.
For IUD insertion or female sterilization after a second trimester abortion, the provider may need
special training because of the changed uterine size and the position of the fallopian tubes.
If she thinks she could be at risk of getting STI/HIV, she should use a condom in all sexual
It may also be helpful to explain emergency contraception, and offer her emergency contraceptive
pills to take home in case she needs them.

Male partner
The partner should be encouraged to take part in family planning counselling sessions, especially
if the chosen method involves his cooperation, for example, condoms or natural methods. In some
places research has shown that family planning method use is more successful when partners choose
and agree upon a method together. First, ask the woman whether she would be happy for her partner
to be involved. In some cases women may feel more comfortable if their partners are not present or
if their partners are counselled on their own and/or by a male counsellor.
Within the community, men also need to participate in discussions on the importance and benefits
of family planning and birth spacing. Men need to understand their role in reproduction so that they
can share the responsibility for family planning and birth spacing. This can be done through outreach
work or through discussion with men when they accompany their wives or partners to the health

Partners should be encouraged to take part in

family planning counselling sessions.

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Women with special needs

Women with special needs may require extra time for family planning counselling. For example, adolescents
who are not in a stable relationship, need emphasis placed on the importance of dual protection from
STIs/HIV, as well as from pregnancy (see box next page). They may also need special assistance in
obtaining the family planning method that suits them best. Women who are in violent relationships may
also need special counselling and support to explore their alternatives (i.e. condom use may be unlikely).
These women may also not be able to discuss family planning with their partners and may need
extra help and support in using family planning methods. Women with physical disabilities may have
special requirements in terms of which methods are suitable for their situation and disability. Women
with severe physical or mental disabilities may have become pregnant due to rape or abuse. The
family needs to be involved in such instances to ensure that this does not recur and also possibly to be
involved in discussions around family planning for this woman. Women with HIV must be counselled
on the necessity of using dual protection methods, even if their partner is HIV-positive, to prevent other
STIs and strains of HIV developing.

Adolescents or unmarried women should also be offered family planning counselling.
Sometimes this is difficult if the family or community disapproves of adolescent sexual
activity and pregnancy. Explore ways you can work with adolescents, youth groups and
schools to reach adolescents who may need support. Consider the counselling context,
specifically any cultural norms you identified in Session 4 to help you locate any key
gatekeepers in the community to help you address this topic with adolescents.
When working with a pregnant adolescent, it is particularly important to discuss birth
spacing and support her in planning when she would be ready for a next pregnancy.

Dual protection (also see Session 14 on HIV)

Correct and consistent use of condoms with another family planning method for every
sexual encounter is the best way to ensure dual protection against unwanted pregnancy
and HIV/AIDS transmission.

Dual protection against both pregnancy and STIs, including HIV/AIDS, is an increasing concern
for many women. You may need to counsel women and their partners about their options for dual

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Family Planning Counselling

Issues for women and their partners to consider are:

Some people are more at risk than others (for example, those with new or multiple partners).
Often people do not know if they or their partner has an STI as they may have no symptoms.
A person with HIV can look and feel healthy.
If someone is unsure about sexually transmitted infections, a test may be available.
If you are sexually active (and are not 100% sure that your partner is not infected) then consistent
and correct condom use is the only way to protect fully against STIs/HIV.
Condoms can be used together with another method to ensure very effective protection from
pregnancy and STIs.
Remember that only condoms protect against both pregnancy and STIs/HIV.

Helping a woman to choose a method that is right for her

There is no single method of family planning which should be recommended for everyone. Family
planning counselling can help a woman, and/or her partner choose which method best suits him or her.
There are various models of family planning counselling that can be applied, including the GATHER
model (Greet the client, Ask about situation and needs, Tell about different methods and options, Help
clients choose, Explain how to use a method, Return) or the REDI model (Rapport-building, Exploration,
Decision-making, and Implementing the decision). In general, the steps or actions outlined below
should be covered to counsel on family planning. To start the counselling process, remember the steps
and skills outlined in Session 2.
1. Assess the situation, her needs and information gaps
In order to help counsel a woman on family planning, it is very important to discuss her and her
partners specific needs and situation.
a. you can ask if she knows about family planning, what she has heard about it, and if she
knows it is important;
b. explain that it is important to know that she can become pregnant soon after giving birth if she
is not exclusively breastfeeding;
c. you should also ask whether the woman or couple already have a family planning method
in mind those people who receive the method that they have planned for are much more
likely to use it successfully. You can then help them assess if this method suits their situation and
needs (e.g., Are you confident you could remember to take a pill every day?), or it may also
be helpful to discuss other options in case there is a method that better suits his/her or their
When discussing her needs and situation, you can ask about:
plans for having more children;
whether she and/or her partner want to use family planning;
previous methods used and reasons for success or failure;
experience with side-effects;

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popular beliefs about family planning and how these affect her decision to choose a particular
her relationship and situation; Is she in a stable relationship? How often does she see her partner?
How many partners does she have?; Is there need for dual protection from STIs, including HIV?
her and her partners HIV status or risk factors for HIV;
regularity of sexual intercourse (especially for adolescents or unmarried women);
partners or familys views about family planning methods;
ability to keep to routines.
2. Help to prioritize solutions, narrow down options and make a good choice
You can then discuss various family planning methods based on the needs and situation of the
woman and her partner. Possible methods are listed in the table below. Key method characteristics
that can be discussed include:
Can the method be used while breastfeeding?
How effective is it?
Are there any side-effects?
Does it provide protection from STIs or HIV?
Does it impact on sexual relations?
How easy is it to use?
Is it easy to stop using the method?
Is the method reversible?
How quickly will fertility return once method is stopped?
Is there a need to do something before sex? (e.g. putting a condom on, inserting a diaphragm)
Is it used continuously, or only used when needed?
Is there a need to touch genitals?
3. Check if she is eligible to use the chosen method
Before giving out detailed information on method use, check if the woman is eligible to use the
method. Some women who have recently given birth or who are breastfeeding may be unable to use
certain methods (see table below). You can also check if she is able to start using the family planning
method straight away. Some health conditions may prevent a woman from using certain methods.
4. Provide useful information on the chosen method
Women and their partners need accurate information to use a family planning method correctly.
Although too much information can be unhelpful or off-putting, there are some key pieces of information
that must be explained:
What the method is and how it works
How effective it is at preventing pregnancy
Side-effects: what the user can expect, and what to do about them
How to use the method correctly
What to do in case of a mistake in the use of the method or problems (missed pills, late for
injection, condom splits)
Information on when to return to the clinic
Signs of complications to watch out for.
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Family Planning Counselling

The best way to check whether a woman knows how to use the method is to ask her to explain to you
in her own words how to use the method. You could also ask her to demonstrate the use of certain
methods such as condoms or diaphragms, or you could consider demonstrating their use to her first,
asking for her to repeat back the demonstration afterwards to ensure that she has fully understood.

Table: Starting family planning methods after childbirth


Not breastfeeding


Start immediately after

childbirth; can use if
exclusively breastfeeding
day and night for up to
6 months or until periods


Very effective with correct

use, few side effects

Insert within 2 days of

childbirth, or from 4 weeks
after childbirth

Insert within 2 days of

childbirth, or from 4 weeks
after childbirth

Always very effective,

long term method but may
have side-effects

Perform within 7 days,

or from 6 weeks after

Perform within 7 days, or

from 6 weeks after childbirth

Always very effective,

permanent method, fewer

pill (estrogenprogestogen)

From 6 months after


From 3 weeks after


Very effective with careful

use, may have side-effects


From 6 months after


From 3 weeks after


Very effective with careful

use, may have side-effects


From 6 weeks after


From immediately after


Very effective with careful

use, may have side-effects

DMPA and
NET-EN (3 or 2
month injection)

From 6 weeks after


From immediately after


Very effective with careful

use, may have side-effects


From 6 weeks after


From immediately after


Always very effective,

long term method but may
have side-effects

From immediately after


From immediately after


Effective with careful use

From 6 to 12 weeks after

childbirth (depending on
when the uterus and cervix
return to normal)

From 6 to 12 weeks after

childbirth (depending on
when the uterus and cervix
return to normal)

Effective with careful use

When periods return to


When periods return to


Effective with careful use







awarenessbased methods

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Activity 1

To practise your skills at family

planning counselling

If you are working in a group carry out this activity as a role-play, rotating the roles. Take
time in advance to come up with a number of different roles. If you are working alone, ask a
colleague to observe you counselling women.
1. Review the material covered in this session and make your own notes or reminders to help
you with family planning counselling. Focus on:
finding out what is already known
dispelling any myths or misunderstandings regarding contraception
engaging the woman and her partner in interactive discussion
filling information gaps
discussing the womans/couples needs
tailoring methods to their circumstances (physical, social)
discussing characteristics of different methods
joint decision-making
2. Get the person who will be observing you to review this session beforehand. Remember
to get permission from the woman or couple for the observer to be present if you will be
carrying out this activity in a real situation rather than a role-play.
3. Ask the observer to give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses during the
counselling process using the points outlined above as a checklist. You can also refer back
to Session 9 Activity 2 for a more general observers checklist.

Our View
Because of expertise and knowledge and the respect person in the community have for
this knowledge, we can sometimes inadvertently push people towards decisions that they
are not ready to make or are not happy with. Skilled counsellors facilitate the process
while taking a back seat when it comes to making a decision. In other words they let the
woman or couple reach their own decision. Your questioning and listening skills will help
you to make accurate assessments and know where to provide guidance and where to
take a step back, as people work through the information.

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Family Planning Counselling

What did I learn?

The importance of establishing family planning during the post-abortion and postpartum
periods cannot be underestimated. Providers need to work in an interactive way with women
and their partners to discuss their family planning needs and to establish which methods will
best satisfy their particular needs. Are you confident that you can discuss family planning issues
with women and their partners during pregnancy and the postpartum period? Which skills do
you need to develop and practise? Do you have access to Family Planning tools to assist you?
Do you know where to refer women and their partners for specialist family planning advice?
Write down the answers to this information in your notebook, but also consider putting it
together as a resource to share with your colleagues. Remember also that as you practise your
counselling skills you should try and reflect on where you have improved and areas you feel
you need to strengthen.

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Part 3: Topics



Session 13

What is in this session?

Breastfeeding plays a crucial role in the health, growth and development of babies and has benefits
for the mother too. Women may need some help to successfully feed their babies. They need support
and reassurance as they learn this skill. This session focuses on the initiation of breastfeeding following
birth and when and how to refer women who are experiencing difficulties.

If necessary and where possible, you should refer women
to see a trained breastfeeding counsellor and/or use
support materials, such as the WHO and UNICEF training
Breastfeeding counselling, a training course (1993) http://
Infant and young child feeding counselling, an integrated
course (2006) http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/

What skills will I develop?

Providing information and
demonstrating breastfeeding
Encouragement and support
Shared problem-solving

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What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Communicate the advantages and benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby
2. Demonstrate how to breastfeed a baby, including positioning and attachment
3. Assess actual and potential difficulties and how to work with women on ways to overcome them
4. Explain the opportunities for HIV-infected mothers to breast feed and improve HIV-free survival of
their baby

During pregnancy and after the birth it is important to discuss with women the importance of exclusive
breastfeeding for six months. Try to include the partner or other family members and communicate to
them all about the benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and baby, the process of breastfeeding
and when and how long to feed for. You should also discuss continued breastfeeding after six months
and introduction of other foods in addition to breast milk. You might find it useful to refer to more
specialized breastfeeding tools and materials to support your discussion.

What is so good about breastfeeding?

Breast milk provides all the nutrients that a baby needs for the first six months of life to grow and
Breast milk continues to provide high-quality nutrients and helps protect against infection up to two
years of age or more.
Breast milk protects babies from infections and illnesses.
Babies find breast milk easy to digest.
The babys body uses breast milk efficiently.
Breastfeeding can contribute to birth spacing.
Breastfeeding helps the mothers uterus to contract reducing the risk of bleeding after birth.
Breastfeeding lowers the rate of breast and ovarian cancer in the mother.
Breastfeeding promotes a faster return to mothers pre-pregnancy weight.
Breastfeeding promotes the emotional relationship, or bonding, between mother and infant.

As well as benefits for the baby in terms of survival, breastfeeding has other advantages.
It is easier to carry out than feeding formula; it takes no preparation; is always at the
correct temperature, it is always clean and is always available. It is the perfect nutrition
for babies.

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Communicate information on the advantages of breastfeeding (including health benefits, economic

benefits, etc.), to help women decide which method of feeding they will choose. Be sure to also
discuss the risks of not breastfeeding. Answer any questions or concerns the woman may have. For
example, some women do not realize that it is normal for the baby to lose weight in the first three
or four days after birth and that this is not a reflection of how she is breastfeeding or the quality
of her breast milk. Women can still breastfeed while taking most medications, such as antibiotics,
antiretroviral or TB medication.
Some women may choose not to breastfeed. You should respect this decision, even if you disagree
with it and support her to replacement feed safely.

Women need support to help them decide

and carry out their infant feeding choice.


abies may get sick more often with diarrhoea, malnutrition and pneumonia and are
at increased risk of dying.
Babies do not get natural protection to illnesses.

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Initiating skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding

After birth, dry the baby. Place him/her on the mothers chest, preferably with skin-to-skin contact. Use
a blanket to cover both baby and the mother, to keep the baby warm. When the baby seems ready,
encourage the mother to help the baby to her breast. Babies show they are ready to take the breast
when they start rooting, or looking for the breast. Some babies need encouragement to latch-on at
this stage.
It is important for all mothers to start skin-to-skin contact from birth as soon as possible following
birth preferably in the first hour. They should let their baby suckle when they appear to be ready.
Some babies may take longer to start breastfeeding. As a health worker you have an important role
in helping the mother to do this. Early contact will help a mother to bond with her baby - that is, to
develop a close, loving relationship. It also makes it more likely that she will start to breastfeed.


t o keep the baby warm
to establish breastfeeding
to encourage mother-child bonding.

Positioning and attachment

To help a mother learn how to breastfeed first encourage her to get herself into a comfortable position.
Show her how to hold the baby straight, with both the babys head and body turned to face her
breast and with the babys nose opposite her nipple. She should hold the baby close supporting the
whole body, not just the neck and shoulders. Refer to breastfeeding aids and materials to help you
become more familiar with correct positioning and attachment.

Encourage and support women as they

learn to breastfeed.
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Observe the mother breastfeeding her baby and offer help and assistance if needed. Look for signs of
good attachment and effective suckling (slow deep sucks with pauses). If the attachment is not good,
encourage the mother to reposition the baby. Show the mother how to take the baby off the breast,
by inserting her little finger into the corner of the babys mouth. Keep encouraging and reassuring the
mother the whole time. Encourage her to reposition the baby until she feels comfortable and the baby
is sucking well. Reassure her that there is no need to rush, even if the baby is crying.

Correct breastfeeding positioning occurs when the babys:
head and whole body are well supported and held close to mother
face and stomach face the mother
ear and shoulder are in one straight line, neck is not twisted.
Good attachment occurs when the babys:
mouth covers most of areola (dark part of the nipple) with some of the areola visible
above the mouth
mouth is wide open
chin touches the breast
lower lip is turned outwards.
Effective suckling occurs when:
slow, deep firm sucks alternate with bursts of suckling
no other sounds except swallowing sounds are heard.

Exclusive breastfeeding
All mothers should be encouraged to exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are six months old.
Exclusive breastfeeding means that the baby is not given any other food or drink, not even water. They
are only given breast milk. Make sure that you or others in the facility do not give the baby anything
that will interfere with exclusive breastfeeding.

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To encourage and support exclusive breastfeeding there are key things you can do:
1. Encourage breastfeeding frequently, day and night, and advise the mother to allow
the baby to feed for as long as he/she wants. Tell her it is quite normal for a baby
to feed up to eight times a day. Explain to her the signs a baby will show when he/
she needs to be fed (such as rooting, looking for the nipple, sucking on the hand).
2. Reassure the parents that there is no need to give the baby any other drink or food,
not even water breast milk has all a baby needs.
3. Help the mother whenever she needs assistance and especially if she is a first time or
adolescent mother or a mother with other special needs.
4. Explain to the mother she should let the baby finish the first breast and come off on
its own before offering the second breast.
5. Encourage the mother to start each feed with a different breast. For example, if the
left breast is used to start one feed, at the next feeding start with the right breast.
6. If it is necessary to express breast milk, show the mother how to do this and show her
how to feed expressed breast milk by cup. You may need to refer her to a trained
infant feeding counsellor for this.
7. Reassure the mother that her body will make enough breast milk to satisfy her babys
needs. Just because a baby is crying, it does not mean that she does not have
enough breast milk. A baby who is demanding more breast feeds may be growing.
By allowing the baby to suckle more often, her body will produce more breast milk
to meet her babys needs.
8. Explain that the mother can provide all the breast milk her baby needs for the first
6 months and beyond.
9. Explain that the mother can continue breastfeeding if she has to return to work or
school, either by expressing breast milk or feeding more often when she is at home.
10. Advise her to seek help (or come back to see you) if the baby is not feeding well
or if she has any difficulties or concerns with breastfeeding, sore nipples or painful
breasts. If needed, refer her to a trained infant feeding counsellor.

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Activity 1

To examine ways to improve

how breastfeeding is
supported and communicated
to mothers.

In many health facilities breastfeeding is supported in a number of different ways. This activity is
designed to get you and your colleagues to assess how you provide breastfeeding counselling
and support, and what could be improved or strengthened.

1. Gather the following information from ten women who have recently given birth. If you are
working in a group, each group member should do the same.
At what point in pregnancy did the health worker discuss breastfeeding with them?
Do they think these discussions should have started earlier in pregnancy or later, or was
this the right time?
Do they remember what was discussed with them? (Make a list of the different points
Did they feel the information was clear and easy for them to understand?
After birth, what advice and support was given to them to breastfeed their babies?
When was this given?
Was skin-to-skin contact promoted after birth (the baby placed on the mothers upper
abdomen)? How soon after birth was it started?
Was ongoing support, advice and reassurance given to them? How was this given?
Who gave them support and advice once they were home? Did they feel they had
enough support and advice or did they need more? What additional support and
advice did they think would be helpful?
What are some of the barriers women face to exclusive breastfeeding and how can
the health staff help them to solve these?
Ask women for suggestions on how staff could better respond to their needs.
2. Discuss the responses with the rest of the group working through this handbook if applicable.
Do you need to do anything differently? How can you as a team better respond to the
support women need to successfully breastfeed? With the manager, make a plan for
any changes that should be introduced, including reviews to check on how you are
progressing. For example, you could carry out this activity again, six months after making
changes to evaluate whether you have made any improvements.

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Activity 1 continued...

Our View
Discussion of breastfeeding should start during pregnancy by asking women how they
plan to feed the baby. At this time you do not need to overload women with too
much information. Stick to the basic facts about the benefits of breastfeeding for the
baby and for the mother. Talk to women about the benefits of initiating skin-to-skin
contact as soon as possible following the birth (preferably within one hour) to facilitate
early initiation of breastfeeding. You should help the mother with the first breastfeed
to show her how to position and attach the baby. Demonstrations are important as
breasfeeding is a skill that mothers learn. Have dolls available to demonstrate position.
Remember to provide as much support and reassurance as each woman needs it will
vary according to the woman.
Consider how you might be able to provide support and reassurance to women
once they have left the health facility and are at home. Once home many women
experience feeding problems such as engorged breasts or cracked nipples. Others
may be pressured by family members to offer supplementary foods or drinks. How can
you work with women to overcome some of these problems? One way is to talk with
all family members on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. You can also make
sure you assess breastfeeding at any visit or meeting during the postnatal period. Also
consider holding a special session for breastfeeding problems.
Often in the community, groups exist to support women who are breastfeeding. Find
out what support exists, or contact women who have successfully breastfed and see if
they would be available to support women after birth.
Before discharge and if the mother returns to the health facility during the postnatal
period you need to assess how breastfeeding is going. You should also assess
breastfeeding and provide relevant information during routine visits and at any time if
there is feeding difficulty or the mother is concerned about feeding.

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Supporting breastfeeding
Women need extra support, encouragement and reassurance while breastfeeding. Although we view
breastfeeding as a natural process, it is still a skill that has to be learned. Initially breastfeeding can
seem demanding, as the baby may have a desire to feed/suck frequently. Babies however, begin to
establish their own pattern over time, and the mother will begin to feel more comfortable and at ease.
Some women also find that the initial let down reflex is very strong which causes them pain or they
get strong after-pains as their wombs contract. Reassure them that this will pass. The let down reflex
may also cause them to leak milk when they have sexual intercourse. Reassure them that this is normal
and that they may need to tell their husband or partner that this is normal.
Sometimes husbands or partners may feel excluded from the breastfeeding process. Encourage them
to be involved in other ways. This may ease the situation and help men to provide more support for
breastfeeding; for example, by asking him to fetch the baby for the feed, helping make the woman
comfortable, or looking after the other children while she is feeding. Massaging the baby, and
humming to calm a crying baby are other very useful ways of involving men.
Many women find breastfeeding difficult due to problems such as engorgement or sore nipples.
Engorgement may happen a few days after birth or at any time when the babys feeding pattern
changes. The breasts become overfull with milk and tissue fluid; milk does not flow well and the skin
is tight (especially the nipple). This makes it difficult for the baby to latch on. Sometimes the skin looks
red and the woman has a fever which usually disappears in 24 hours. To prevent engorgement, help
women to start breastfeeding soon after birth, ensure good attachment and encourage unrestricted
breastfeeding. To treat engorgement, recommend that the mother puts warm compresses on her breasts
or takes a warm shower and expresses enough milk to reduce discomfort which helps make attachment
easier. After expressing milk she can use cold compresses to reduce the inflammation. Cracked or sore
nipples occur mainly because the baby is not attaching properly. Help the mother to make sure the baby
is attaching properly.

Support for feeding preterm and/or low birth weight babies

Low birth-weight or preterm babies should be fed their mothers own breast milk. The mother may
need extra support to initiate breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk as soon as possible after birth.
Because low birth-weight babies can sometimes get easily tired when feeding, it is particularly
important that the mother feeds her baby as often as possible, responding to demand and at least 8
feeds during 24 hours, during the day and night
If a mother cannot feed her own baby, it is still best for a low birth-weight baby to be fed human breast
milk. Another woman could feed the baby, so long as she is not HIV-infected. Some facilities have
established breast milk banks, where breast milk from healthy donor women is collected, pasteurised
and kept frozen. If your facility does not have a breast milk bank, maybe the local referral hospital
can put you in contact with a breast milk bank. Try to find out about breast milk banks in your area

158 | Counselling for MNH


and keep this information available for mothers who cannot breastfeed for a
while due to health problems. If the low birth-weight or preterm baby cannot
be fed breast milk, either by the mother, a wet nurse or from a breast milk
bank, then the baby can be given standard infant formula by cup. Look
at Session 26 of the WHO Breastfeeding Counselling: A training course
cdr_93_3/en/), for further information on how to help a mother breastfeed
a low birth-weight baby.
Encouraging continuous skin-to-skin contact can help low birth weight babies keep warm and support
breastfeeding on demand. Make sure parents are aware of all the newborn danger signs and that
they understand it is especially important to bring a low birth-weight newborn to a health facility if they
have any worries, as these small babies are at particular risk from infections and feeding difficulties.

Support for the mother who is not yet breastfeeding

If the mother or baby is ill or the baby is too small to suckle you need to give extra support and help.
First teach the mother how to express milk and feed the baby by cup. If you have not been trained
to do this, you should refer to an infant feeding counsellor where possible. If the mother and baby
are separated for any reason then reassure the mother about the babys progress whenever she asks.
Encourage the mother to start breastfeeding the baby as soon as she or the baby is able.

Support for breastfeeding twins

Many mothers who give birth to two or more babies are worried they will not have enough milk.
Reassure her that she will have enough milk for both babies. Encourage the mother to feed one baby
at a time until breastfeeding is established. You can then show her different ways she can feed the
babies and work with her to find out which method she is most comfortable with. If one twin is weaker
or smaller than the other, make sure that the weaker twin also gets enough milk.

Advice to women who are not breastfeeding

Some women may not be able to breastfeed and others may choose not to. A womans right to
take an informed decision should be supported and respected. If after discussing the benefits of
breastfeeding and the risks of not breastfeeding the mother decides not to breastfeed, she should be
shown alternative methods.
These mothers need to learn how to safely prepare and feed formula to their babies. You may
also have other women whose babies have died or who have had a stillbirth. These women may
experience discomfort in their breasts for a period of time. Advise them not to stimulate the breasts or
nipples. Show them how to support the breasts with a firm well fitting bra or a cloth. Teach the mother
how to express just a little milk to relieve discomfort but not enough to stimulate more milk production.

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Advise all women to seek care if their breasts become painful, swollen, and red or if they
feel ill.

Mothers who are HIV-positive

Babies of HIV-positive mothers can benefit from breastfeeding for all the same reasons outlined
above. HIV may pass from an HIV-infected mother to her baby during pregnancy, childbirth and
breastfeeding. Antiretroviral treatments can dramatically reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission
during breastfeeding and increase the chance of HIV-free survival of the baby (that is, staying free
of HIV infection and also staying alive). Although there is still a small chance that the baby could
become HIV positive even when the mother is being treated with antiretroviral drugs, babies who are
not breastfed, but given replacement feeds, are more likely to die from infections.
National health authorities should have a policy to indicate whether health services should promote
and support breastfeeding or replacement feeding among HIV-infected mothers. You need to be
aware of this recommendation and you should develop the skills to support women to achieve this.
However, it is a mothers right to choose how to feed her baby and you will need to support her
choice. Mothers who are aware they are HIV infected should be counselled on safe infant feeding
by a trained infant feeding counsellor. Where specialist help is not available, you should support
women as best you can.
Ask her to repeat back to you in her own words to make sure she has understood the information
correctly. Work together to make a plan that she can implement in order to carry out safe infant
Women who are HIV-positive and plan to breastfeed need support, particularly in the early stages
when breastfeeding is being initiated. Try to help the women to avoid getting mastitis or nipple
damage, as these difficulties increase the risk of transmission to the baby. Advise the woman to return
if she has any problems with her breasts.
Women who have chosen replacement feeding for their babies must have regular follow-up to ensure
that the baby is growing and to support replacement feeding. These women need extra support
and reassurance, especially if they are from a community where breastfeeding is the norm. Many
communities may stigmatize or shun a woman who chooses replacement feeding. Work with families
and communities to support women in their choice of infant feeding.

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Mothers known to be HIV positive should be provided with lifelong antiretroviral therapy
or antiretroviral prophylaxis (preventative treatment) to reduce HIV transmission to the
baby during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
National health authorities should decide whether health services in that country should
principally promote and support breastfeeding or promote and support replacement
feeding among HIV-infected mothers.
In settings where national authorities recommend breastfeeding, HIV infected mothers
and/ or their babies should be given antiretroviral treatment or prophylaxis to reduce
the risk of transmission throughout the breastfeeding period.
These mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months of life, then
introduce appropriate complementary foods with continued breastfeeding for the first
12 months of life. Mothers should stop breastfeeding only when they can provide a safe
and adequate diet.
If a mother decides to stop breastfeeding, she should
do so gradually within one month.
HIV infected mothers should only give commercial
infant formula milk as a replacement feed to their
baby when specific conditions of safety and hygiene,
affordability and supply of formula, access to health
care and family support for replacement feeding are
Guidelines on HIV and infant feeding 2010.
Principles and recommendations for infant feeding
in the context of HIV and a summary of evidence

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What did I learn?

Breastfeeding should be encouraged and supported for all women. In this session you
examined how to explain the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for six months and
continued breastfeeding up to two years or beyond. You learned how to support women and
how to demonstrate ways to effectively breastfeed soon after the birth. You also learned that
mother who are HIV-infected can also breastfeed and give their baby all the benefits of breast
milk with very little risk of transmitting HIV.
Take some time to reflect on how you can improve your own skills in communicating breastfeeding
and demonstrating how to position and attach the baby. You could use your notebook to write
down tips or advice you can give to women who are experiencing problems.
Encourage women to learn from one another; often women have helpful home remedies or
suggestions for alleviating some of the discomforts associated with breastfeeding in the early
stages. Determine what support exists in the community. Make contacts with these groups.
Finally, remember that it is important for successful breastfeeding that the woman has the
support of her partner and her family.

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Part 3: Topics



Session 14

What is in this session?

In many countries, HIV/AIDS prevalence is increasing rapidly among women of reproductive age,
and has become an important contributing factor to high maternal morbidity and mortality. All women
should know their HIV status and understand the importance of HIV prevention. Knowledge of HIV
status, through HIV testing and counselling, is especially important during pregnancy, childbirth, and
breastfeeding, since women with HIV can transmit the virus to their infants during these times.
Talking to women about HIV/AIDS may be a new topic area for many skilled attendants. Midwives
and nurses who provide services to women are already a trusted source of information and advice.
Building on this foundation of trust, skilled attendants can be an important source of caring and
provide supportive HIV/AIDS counselling.

It is not possible to cover in one session of this Handbook all
of the skills and knowledge needed to provide comprehensive
HIV/AIDS counselling. This session only provides an
introduction with a focus on HIV and pregnancy. You are
encouraged to discuss with your colleagues and programme
managers how the services can best provide support for
the different themes covered. If HIV is very prevalent in your
community, you might consider discussing in your group or with your supervisor opportunities
for additional training to help staff in supporting women. Tools developed by the CDC, World
Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, USAID, and partners can provide useful strategies for
learning about how to address HIV. For testing and counselling for prevention of mother-tochild transmission of HIV support tools see

What skills will I develop?

How to motivate women to accept
HIV testing and counselling, prevent
HIV, and prevent mother-to-child HIV
transmission (PMTCT).
How to help women overcome actual
or perceived HIV-related stigma and
discrimination and other barriers that
influence their decision-making about
HIV prevention and testing and use of
PMTCT services.
Self-reflection: how to explore your own
beliefs and attitudes around HIV/AIDS.
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What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Explain the benefits of testing and counselling for HIV during pregnancy, the need for partner
testing and counselling, and the importance of sharing HIV status with partner.
2. Discuss ways for all pregnant women and their partners to prevent exposure to HIV.
3. Help pregnant women understand mother-to-child HIV transmission and how to prevent it.
4. Motivate women with HIV infection to participate in PMTCT interventions.
5. Assist pregnant women who test HIV-positive to cope with their diagnosis and support them to
make a plan to get the special care they and their infants will need.

Activity 1
45 minutes

To reflect on your own attitudes,

beliefs and values towards
women who are HIV-positive.

This exercise is best done in a group or with another person so that you can discuss the topic.
If you are working alone, try and find a colleague who will carry out the exercise with you.
1. Is it important to know whether a woman has HIV? Why or why not?
2. Are there certain types of women more likely to be infected with HIV or can any woman
get HIV?
3. Whose fault is it if a woman gets HIV?
4. Should women who have HIV be allowed to get pregnant? Should they be allowed to
have more than one pregnancy?
5. Should women who have HIV get the same care or different care to women who do not
have HIV? If different, how should it be different?
Think about how some of the answers you have given to these questions may impact on the way
you treat and counsel women that you see. Do these present a barrier to providing appropriate
care and support? Keep these points in mind as you read through the session. You may wish to
review the questions and answers after you complete the session, to see if your answers have
changed and to think about the barriers your beliefs and attitudes may pose.

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Activity 1 continued...

Our View
In answering these questions you will have had to explore some of your own attitudes,
values and beliefs towards HIV.
Anyone can get HIV. Some people are more at risk because of the behaviours they
have such as multiple sexual partners, or because they inject drugs. It should not matter
how a woman or man got HIV in terms of how you treat them. All women that you see,
whether they are HIV-positive or negative, should be treated with respect. As you will not
know who has HIV and who does not, you should treat all women the same way and
take the same clinical precautions. Women who are HIV-positive have the same human
rights as all other women and they can make choices and decisions about whether to
have children or not, and how many children and whether they want to breastfeed. If a
woman is HIV-positive, she may need additional information, support and counselling
including the possible effects of childbirth on her health status, but the decisions are still
hers to make.

You may agree or you may not agree with some of the views expressed here. Whatever your views,
you need to think about how they might impact the women that you treat and counsel. Are you likely
to treat them differently? How could you try to overcome some of the negative attitudes that you have?

Counselling to increase acceptance of HIV testing

Identifying women with HIV infection and their partners is a gateway to helping women, partners
and children to receive the HIV treatment and care they need. All women in high prevalence countries,
especially pregnant women, should be tested and counselled for HIV. Counselling during routine
antenatal and postpartum care is an important way to reach women with information about HIV/AIDS
and encourage HIV testing. New emphasis is placed on providing essential HIV/AIDS information
at the first antenatal care visit, to be sure that as many women as possible receive the information.


During pregnancy
basics of HIV transmission and prevention
HIV testing and counselling processes

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benefits and risks of HIV testing
right to refuse testing (opt-out)
implications of positive and negative test results
identification of supportive HIV services and treatment available
identification of PMTCT services and treatment available
family planning/dual protection and provide condoms (See page 167 below for a
definition of dual protection)
identification of sexual risks and plan for reduction of risks
availability and benefits of testing and counselling services for couples
importance of infant feeding and nutrition

Counselling after an HIV test

explain HIV test result and the possibility that in the first 3 months following infection
the test may still come back negative (window period)
assist in understanding result/ coping with diagnosis
provide information to HIV-negative women on how to stay negative
discuss immediate concerns
explain available services, treatment, care and support and make appropriate
support safe and voluntary disclosure
discuss best and most feasible infant feeding option
discuss the importance of good nutrition for staying healthy
explain essential PMTCT issues
encourage partner dialogue/disclosure
encourage partner testing and counselling
discuss family planning/ dual protection and provide condoms
reinforce HIV prevention/risk reduction and develop a plan to reduce the risk of HIV
revise the birth and emergency plan and discuss the need to give birth in a facility
with a skilled attendant

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In many countries, provider initiated testing and counselling of all pregnant women during ANC has
become national policy. This is called opt-out HIV testing. In opt-out testing, getting an HIV test is
a part of the regular ANC care package for all pregnant women, like haemoglobin tests. All ANC
clients are offered the test, and counselled on the benefits and risks of knowing HIV status during
pregnancy. But testing is still voluntary and women may refuse if they wish. Women are more likely to
accept HIV testing if their health care provider counsels in favour of the procedure and recommends it.
If a woman refuses testing and counselling, spend a bit of extra time with her to find out why she
refused (use your open questioning and active listening skills), and see if you can help her with any
problems related to accepting the HIV test. But remember to present the information in a neutral, nonbiased way without pressure or judgement.
Some women may be afraid to get an HIV test, do not want to know their HIV status, or do not want
to discuss results with their partner. Real and perceived stigma and discrimination against those who
are known to be infected with HIV is a big problem in many communities and may be a barrier
to testing. Counselling women about the benefits and risks of knowing their HIV status, not only for
themselves but for their infant and partner, can help to overcome the fear of stigma, discrimination
and other barriers.
Allowing women to express their concerns is also important. Fear of bad outcomes is more common
than actual bad outcomes for most women, and many women who disclose their positive HIV status
report positive outcomes, support and understanding. When counselling, be sure to assist women to
evaluate the real chances of bad outcomes and help make a plan to minimize them.


Being sure of her status, if HIV-positive or HIV-negative
If HIV-negative, she can learn how to remain negative
If HIV-positive, she can learn how to live positively and care for herself and her baby
Revision of her birth and emergency plan to make sure she gives birth in a facility
with a skilled attendant
She can share HIV test results with partner and encourage him to get tested
Special care and treatment to prevent HIV transmission to the baby is available
Care, nutrition support, counselling, and follow-up is available for women infected
with HIV and HIV-exposed infants
Long-term treatment (Anti-RetroVirals-ARVs) for women infected with HIV, baby, and
family are available in many places

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Assuring the confidentiality of test results can help women decide to get an HIV test
Confidentiality means that only health staff directly involved in her care will know her test results; that
it is her decision if and when she wants to share her test results with anyone else. Assure women that
they will get good ANC whether or not they accept HIV testing and counselling. Where available,
refer women who refuse testing and counselling at ANC for specialized HIV testing and counselling.
If a woman does not accept HIV testing and counselling at her first visit, ask again at every future visit
if she is ready to be tested. Briefly review with her the benefits of knowing her and her partners HIV
status, and the care that is available for HIV-positive women and their babies, at each clinic visit to
help her decide.

Discussing HIV test results with HIV-negative women

Post-test counselling for a pregnant woman who has tested HIV-negative should focus on helping the
woman decide how she can stay HIV-negative. Support should also be provided to help her decide
if she will discuss her results with her partner, so that he can be tested and actively participate in risk
assessment and risk reduction for the two of them.
The main ways to prevent HIV infection and STIs:
Correct and consistent use of condoms during every sexual act
Practising safer sex (choosing sexual activities that do not allow semen, fluid from the vagina, or
blood to enter the mouth, anus or vagina of the partner, or to touch the skin of the partner where
there is an open cut or sore.)
Reducing the number of partners
Sexual fidelity
Sometimes pregnant women may need help in adopting these prevention behaviours, or in getting
their partner to agree. A first step in negotiating safer sexual practices between partners is for them to
do a risk assessment, to identify any risky behaviour they might currently be involved in. This requires
a frank and honest discussion between partners about their own sexual practices as a couple, and
any other sexual activity that might be taking place outside of their relationship.
The second step is for the woman or couple to decide what changes need to be made to better
protect against HIV/STIs, and how they will make those changes. All women should consider dual
methods of protection, to protect against HIV and to avoid unwanted pregnancy. (See Session 12 on
family planning for more information on dual protection).

Dual protection:
Many couples are successful in adopting safer sexual practices. If you have developed the appropriate
skills and experience, it is often helpful to offer to counsel the couple together so they can then talk
with you as a couple about these issues, to help them better understand risks, and find solutions that
are agreeable to both.

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Session 14

Correct and consistent use of condoms with another family planning method for every
sexual encounter is the best way to ensure dual protection against HIV and avoid
unwanted pregnancy or to space desired pregnancy.

Another key to HIV prevention is partner testing and counselling. Every pregnant woman should
ask her partner to get an HIV test. It is not unusual for a pregnant woman to test HIV-positive and
for her partner to test HIV-negative, or the other way around. This is called discordance. Couples
with discordant HIV test results can present a counselling challenge, as partners often have difficulty
understanding how the results can be different. You may want to refer discordant couples to more
specialized counselling services where available.

Repeat testing late in the pregnancy should also be recommended to HIV-negative women if HIV is
very prevalent in your community.

Health workers need to assess if condoms are easily available in the community or if there are barriers
which limit their availability.

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Activity 2
1 hour

To develop or improve your counselling skills

so you can help women to address common
barriers to HIV prevention behaviours, and
to negotiate safer sex with their partners.

Remember as previously discussed, the main ways to prevent STI/HIV infection: use of condoms
(including dual protection), practising safer sex, fidelity, partner reduction, or abstinence.
1. Discuss with colleagues, women and men in the community and make a list of the different
reasons why men and women do not put HIV prevention behaviours into practice. Also
talk about barriers to partner HIV testing and counselling. Consider how the counselling
context (e.g. culture, gender roles, household decision-making, and the social system in
your community) may contribute to these barriers.
2. Discuss possible solutions make this into a list of things that women can do for themselves,
things that health workers can implement, and things that can be addressed by the wider
3. Think of ways you can help to implement the solutions you have proposed. With regards
to things women can do for themselves, how can you support them to do these things?
What information will they need? How can you improve your couple counselling skills to
work with partners to involve them in the solutions?
4. What work needs to be done in the broader community? Who else can support you in
this effort?
5. Finally what can health workers do? Discuss the solutions among staff and develop a plan
together to improve the support you can provide.

Our View
Whether women are infected with HIV or not, it is important for them to understand how
to prevent HIV transmission (or reinfection). Helping a woman overcome her own or
her partners resistance to partner testing and counselling, condomuse and other safer
sexual practices for example, partner reduction or abstinence, will require you to have
a frank, open discussion about sexual issues. You may need to discuss sexual attitudes
and practices that you have not addressed in your counselling before. You may find that
women would like an opportunity to role-play condom negotiation and introduction of
dual methods with you before they discuss the issues with their partners. Before they do
so, make sure to provide her with condoms.
See session 16 below on women and violence will also be of use to you if you suspect
there may be a problem of violence.

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Discussing HIV test results with women infected with HIV

Helping a woman cope with positive HIV test results is among the most difficult counselling challenges
faced by health workers today. Pregnant women who find out that they have HIV have to cope not
only with their own diagnosis, but that their baby has been exposed to HIV, as well as the normal
concerns all women have during pregnancy.
Post-test counselling for pregnant women who test -HIV-positive can present challenges of time, space,
and privacy/confidentiality. If it is not realistic to provide counselling to women infected with HIV
during the regular antenatal care session, it may be possible to ask the woman to return at a time
when it would be possible for you to have more time for a more in-depth discussion, after she has
had time to think over the basic information you provided her during post-counselling at ANC. Some
women who test HIV-positive may want to bring their partner or a family member back to the clinic to
participate in couple or family counselling. If you cannot provide counselling of this type, refer them
to other available HIV counselling services.
There are several key post-test counselling topics:
coping with the diagnosis
learning the actions to take to keep a woman and her baby healthier and prevent mother-to-child
transmission, including antiretroviral drugs and infant feeding
deciding whether to share her test results with others, especially her partner, so he can also get tested.
Helping pregnant women cope with their diagnosis is the first counselling objective and requires
special skills. Factors that influence a womans acceptance of a positive HIV test results include:
the content and quality of the counselling and support she receives
awareness of the options that are available to her for treatment, care and support
her perception of what the reaction of family and friends will be
her willingness to share her HIV status with others (disclosure).
It is important to discuss the pros and cons of disclosing her status to others from the womans own
perspective and to discuss any problems that a woman thinks she might have if she shares her HIV
status with others. Help her decide who she might like to tell about her diagnosis and help her make
a plan to share her results if she wants to. If a woman would like your support to disclose results, offer
to participate in mediated disclosure. Invite family and partner to the clinic or go to their home if
appropriate, to participate in the sharing of HIV test results.
Provide women who have a positive test result with multiple opportunities for disclosure. Even women
who choose not to disclose when results are first given to them can later change their minds.
Remember to assure women that all discussions about HIV results and related issues are confidential.
Only you and essential members of the health care team will know about her status, and that you will
maintain confidentiality among yourselves.
In many settings, women infected with HIV decide not to disclose their HIV status. Fear of stigma and
discrimination, real or perceived, against people with HIV/AIDS, including fear of partner violence
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and rejection by family, can be a major barrier to getting tested for HIV test and disclosure of HIVpositive test results. Despite efforts to change attitudes towards people living with HIV/AIDS, stigma
and discrimination persist in many communities.
Some women infected with HIV who disclose test results do experience violence or some of the other
negative things that can happen. Remember, as mentioned earlier, fear of bad outcomes is more
common that actual bad outcomes for most women. Most women who do tell others their HIV status
receive support and understanding from their partner and family. When counselling, try to determine
if there is a real risk of bad disclosure outcomes, and help think of alternative sources of support for
women who cannot or will not disclose to their partner, family or close friends.


Disclosure means a woman sharing her HIV status with her partner and/or family.
shock, anger, denial, fear, isolation, loss, grief, guilt
fear of abandonment- economic and family support
fear of rejection/stigma/discrimination
fear of violence
blame - fear of accusations of infidelity
shame - to admit to family and friends, employers and embarrass them
fear of loss of job
fear of effect on her marriage, current pregnancy or implications on future
depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal ideas.
avoiding burden of secrecy, no fear of involuntary disclosure
allows opportunity for treatment, partner testing and counselling
ability to discuss testing, prevention/protection, treatment with partner
ability to protect partner/ baby from transmission
access to emotional and practical support
ability to discuss symptoms and concerns
easier access to health care
easier to adhere to medication - no need to hide medication
easier to adhere to infant feeding style of choice.

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Activity 3
1 hour

To practise helping HIV-positive women to

make a disclosure plan.

1. Review the box above which lists barriers and motivators to disclosure. Think these over
and discuss with colleagues, women and men in the community to make the list appropriate
for your setting.
2. Practise disclosure doing some role-plays where the counsellor will:
discuss advantages/disadvantages of disclosure
help the woman identify barriers and fears about disclosure
explore options to overcome fear of disclosure
identify readiness to disclose
give the woman time to think over the results and her specific needs.
3. Continue the role-play but move on to develop a disclosure plan. Be sure to include the
following elements in the plan:
who to inform (disclosure) and impact on family
partial disclosure or full disclosure - who to tell first, where, and how
how to break news
assist the woman to anticipate likely responses after disclosure
provide reassurance, offer to mediate (e.g. act as a go-between) disclosure to partner
or others. Offer couple counselling (see session 4).
identify sources of support
develop coping strategies for managing stress of diagnosis
discuss risk reduction, protecting partner and baby
assist the woman in understanding the need for her existing children to know her status
and for them to receive testing and counselling in an age-appropriate way.

Our View
Taking some time to review barriers and motivators to disclosure in advance will enable
you to practise your counselling skills on this topic area. Counselling women or couples
who are HIV-positive can be very emotional and is a sensitive topic. With the use of
plays, you can explore different ways of facilitating and supporting the decision-making
Develop a sheet with the different elements of the disclosure plan and keep it handy so
that you can use it as a support when working with women.
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Treatment for herself and her baby, including preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission
The second counselling objective for HIV-positive pregnant women is to explain in detail the care
that will help her stay healthier and help her prevent passing HIV to her baby, and to motivate her
to accept that care. Explain the prophylaxis (preventive treatment), treatment and care that may be
available for her, her infant, and her partner. Explore with her if there are any barriers she might face
receiving care and treatment, such as costs, transport, or family resistance.
Efforts to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV should be as comprehensive as possible and
acknowledge that both mothers and fathers have an impact on transmission of HIV to the infant:

Both partners need to be aware of the importance of safer sex throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Both partners should be tested and counselled for HIV.
Both partners should be made aware of and provided with PMTCT interventions.
Both partners should be provided with condoms.

When the male partner is involved and informed, the woman is more likely to be able to participate in
PMTCT interventions, including using condoms during pregnancy and lactation, and receive needed
maternal and HIV services.
Some things that help prevent transmission from mother-to-child, such as exclusive replacement feeding
or exclusive breastfeeding (see Session 13), can be difficult for women to adopt, especially if they do
not share their HIV status with family. For example, new mothers often experience pressure from mothersin-law or other female relatives to use breast milk substitutes or to feed babies traditional porridge early
in life, in addition to breast milk. This type of mixed feeding is especially dangerous for HIV-exposed
babies, and you should help women develop strategies to maintain exclusive breastfeeding even if there
is resistance in the home environment.

Women need support to help them decide and carry out their infant feeding choice.
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Activity 4
1 hour

To improve counselling content and

techniques for the special needs of HIVpositive women during pregnancy,
postpartum and breastfeeding.

1. Review the key facts about PMTCT in this session or in the PCPNC. Are there any facts
about PMTCT that you yourself would like to know more about to better counsel HIVpositive women?
2. Think about the questions you ask all pregnant women when helping them prepare a birth
and emergency plan (See Session 7). Think about how counselling HIV-positive women
and their families for birth and emergency planning is different. Also consider the impact
of stigma and discrimination from health workers and from the community. What will you
need to add to the questions you developed for birth and emergency planning to consider
the needs of the HIV-positive women? How could you strengthen your current counselling
techniques to help HIV positive women with PMTCT and make a birth and emergency
3. Brainstorm possible barriers that women could face trying to carry out the recommended
actions for PMTCT, such as disclosure, difficulties with adherence to antiretroviral
interventions, planning to give birth in a facility and infant feeding recommendations. Talk
with HIV-positive women and ask them what some of the barriers are. Use the information
from Activity 2 in this session.
4. Talk with staff members who may be involved in providing care to HIV-positive women
during labour, birth and the postpartum period. Get them to review their own attitudes
towards HIV-positive women, and whether they treat them differently, or view them
differently. You can use Activity 1 of this session to guide your discussions. Ask for their
comments on how each of them could contribute to more effective counselling for birth and
emergency planning for PMTCT, infant feeding support and postnatal follow-up of HIVpositive women and their infants.
5. Using the comments from women and staff, and your insight, put together a sample PMTCT
Birth and Emergency Preparedness Counselling Session. Practise doing it. How long does
it take to cover all the key facts? Probably more time than you actually have in your busy
schedule! If your focus is more on giving information than about the womans participation
and a two-way communication process, consider how you can involve her more. Think of
ways to cover all the information and allow time for the woman to participate and express
her concerns in less time. You may need to break it up into several sessions.

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Activity 4 continued...
6. Make some notes in your notebook on how working with HIV-positive women for PMTCT
has made you feel. Are there any things that you and the staff think you could do to make
your facility more PMTCT Friendly?

Our View
There is a lot of information to be conveyed in PMTCT counselling. However, it is
important that the counselling on PMTCT does not become information giving only.
Remember the foundations of good counselling (Sessions 2 through 5) find out what the
woman already knows and build on that knowledge. Ask about her situation and share
information that is relevant to her. Help her to identify solutions and together work out
how she can implement them. In some cases you may feel out of your depth, or unable
to provide the level of support and care a mother who is HIV-positive needs. It may be
appropriate in these instances to refer women for specialized counselling.

Supportive counselling for women infected with HIV

Making sure that women with HIV continue to get the additional care and counselling they need after
the baby is born, during breastfeeding and the babys first year of life presents special challenges.
New mothers who are infected with HIV continue to need supportive counselling well into the babys
first year of life, to assure better follow-up of mother-baby pairs (HIV-positive mothers and HIV-exposed
As your experience in counselling women infected with HIV increases, you will be able to identify
common responses to positive HIV diagnosis and living with HIV. But remember to tailor your
counselling to the specific needs of each woman: careful counselling can uncover deeper issues,
problems and concerns that may be unique to each woman. Supportive counselling for women
infected with HIV requires confidential two-way communication to help them define the problems
and challenges related to HIV and make more informed choices about treatment, care and support.
Women infected with HIV with special needs such as adolescents, or women living with intimate
partner violence, may need even more support.
As a health worker you can provide hope and encouragement, and help give women a sense of
control so they can find practical, realistic ways to cope with lifelong care and treatment needs for a
serious illness like HIV. The box on the next page can help you determine some of the issues that may
need to be addressed as you counsel women infected with HIV after the birth of their baby. Keep this
information as a resource and reminder.

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practice safer sex and appropriate family planning for HIV-positive women; use
condoms (See Session 12 and box below.)
understand care and support needs for HIV-positive women and infants and access
understand ARV treatment, assess treatment readiness, and access services if
identify personal strengths and resources
living positively with HIV, personal care and improved nutrition
identify additional emotional, social, spiritual support required and potential sources
- family, peers, community organizations
identify needs for material assistance and ways to mobilize local resources
define and address barriers to treatment, care and support.
identify ways to tell other children and caregivers about HIV status.

Some women infected with HIV may want to have additional children. Be supportive and respect a
womans wishes but explain that pregnancy carries risks for herself and her baby. Explain that women
infected with HIV may have difficulty becoming pregnant. Discuss the need to plan for care and
treatment for her, and for her children if she or her partner becomes ill.

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(Refer also to Session 12 on Family Planning)
Explain that future pregnancies can have significant health risks for her and her baby
including transmission of HIV to the baby (during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding),
miscarriage, anaemia, wasting, preterm labour, stillbirth, low birth weight and other
If she does wish to get pregnant again, birth spacing is important. Advise her to wait
at least 24 months from birth to the next pregnancy, as that is healthier for her and
the baby.
Condoms are the best family planning method for women with HIV. Condoms
provide protection from STIs/ reinfection with HIV and pregnancy. Advise on correct
and consistent use of condoms.
With the condom, another family planning method can be used for additional
protection against pregnancy (dual protection). However, not all methods are
appropriate for the HIV-positive woman:
- A woman who has HIV, can insert IUD. If she has AIDS, do not insert IUD. But if
the woman is being treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs) and is healthy, the IUD can
be inserted.
- Fertility awareness-based methods may be unreliable to use if she has AIDS
or is taking ARVs because of changes to the menstrual cycle and higher body
- Women with HIV should not use spermicides or diaphragms with spermicides.
- Women who have HIV and TB, or any women taking Rifampin for TB, should not
use hormonal birth control pills, monthly injectables, implants or patches.
As for HIV-negative women, Lactational Amenorrhoea Method (LAM) can only be
used as a family planning method in the first 6 months after birth if the woman is
exclusively breastfeeding her baby (that is not giving any other foods or drinks to
the baby, not even water) both day and night and her menstrual periods have not
Counsel about permanent methods if a woman has completed desired childbearing.

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Activity 5
1 hour

To help HIV-positive women plan

to receive treatment for her and
her baby and reduce MTCT
during pregnancy, birth and in the
postpartum period

It is important to help women develop a plan to seek out and adhere to treatment, care and
support for themselves and their infants. This activity aims to help you to provide supportive
individual or family counselling to HIV-positive women and their families after birth.

1. Review the recommended topics for counselling HIV-positive women in the first year
after birth. Identify additional information you need or counselling skills you will need to
strengthen. For example, did your previous counselling experience include counselling
partners and family members, or outreach to solicit support from community or religious
2. Review the clinic records of some of the HIV-positive women you have counselled during
pregnancy who have now given birth. Think about the counselling and support you provided
during antenatal care sessions and during labour and birth. Did it include recommending
follow up for the mother and baby after routine postpartum visits are completed? What
would you need to change so that supportive counselling to HIV-positive women throughout
the first year after birth becomes a routine part of your counselling services?
3. Think about the list of counselling, care and support recommended for HIV-positive women
and their babies. Talk to some HIV-positive women to get their actual experiences caring
for themselves and caring for a baby exposed to HIV. Make a list of the possible barriers
they face. Divide this list into internal barriers (things like shame, fear, and low self-esteem)
and external barriers (lack of funds or transport, no family support). Think of ways to
support them to overcome each barrier. Focus on ways to provide hope, encouragement,
and practical, realistic ways to cope.
4. Decide which needs of HIV-positive women and babies you and your staff can address
through counselling, and what things you will need external help to achieve. How can you
create broader awareness of the problems of HIV-positive women and families? Consider
the possibility of creating peer support groups, so HIV-positive mothers can share their
experiences with other HIV-positive women. Will you need to recruit the support and
resources of local community and government organizations?

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What did I learn?

After finishing this session you should be better prepared to counsel all pregnant women about
issues of HIV in pregnancy, and the importance of getting tested for HIV. You should know
how to counsel women to practise safer sex to prevent HIV, and how to prevent MTCT. You
can provide initial supportive counselling to women who test positive for HIV, and you have
practised helping women to decide about disclosure of HIV test results, and to deal with stigma
and discrimination that often results when a woman tests HIV-positive.
You have learned more about the many concerns and challenges facing both HIV-negative
and HIV-positive pregnant woman and their families. Are you more comfortable talking to
women about their sexual practices that may put them at risk for getting HIV? About how to
adopt safer sex practices within their relationships? Are you confident you can counsel women
infected with HIV without allowing any personal attitudes you might have to influence the
counselling relationship?
Do you have all the necessary information you need to be able to counsel pregnant women
about HIV/AIDS or to refer them to specialized counselling? If completing this session made you
want to expand or formalize the basic HIV/AIDS counselling skills you learned, try to identify
local sources for HIV counselling and testing in your area, such as government programs,
NGOs and community- based organizations.
Write down in your notebook a summary of the key lessons you have learned in this session.

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Session 15

What is in this session?

Death is something we all have to contend with. However, the death of a baby at birth or the woman
during birth is particulary difficult. Peoples reactions to death vary greatly; it is not something that can
be predicted in advance. There are a few practical steps you can take to help someone through the
bereavement process but most support activities are reactive to the needs and wishes of the family
members. Bereavement support groups exist; you may wish to refer some women or families to these.
In this session we provide you with information to strengthen your understanding of bereavement
processes and focus on developing your skills to better support family members in bereavement.

What skills will I develop?

Active listening
Exploring beliefs
Providing information and support
Demonstrating empathy.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Describe some of the processes involved in bereavement and grieving.
2. Outline practical steps to help family members.
3. Identify issues for discussion with family members to help them with decisions they have to take.

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Death and bereavement

Death of a family member is something that everyone experiences at some point. How people react
to death varies enormously and it is not possible to predict what a persons reaction will be. The death
of a family member affects not only the individuals in the family, but also the family unit as a whole.
The specific difficulties the family faces and the manner in which they cope with them depends on
the particular circumstances of the family and of the death. For some, sudden death of the woman or
baby during birth can often be more difficult for family members to cope with than death following a
long illness, where there was opportunity for family members to prepare themselves in some way. This
is not always the case, so do not assume that a family will react in a certain way.
The way in which people act following the death of a family member can change over time. A range
of emotions may be experienced from anger, shock and disbelief, to sadness, and even long term
depression. All these emotions are normal. The usual stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining
followed by depression and eventual acceptance. For some people there can be a delay as long as
several weeks or even months before they begin to grieve for the loss of the dead person. In order
to provide support you need to be prepared for all and any of these emotions and at different times.
You may find providing support following death a particularly hard task for yourself emotionally.
Remember to ensure that you get extra support at this time. You need to look after yourself in order to
continue to support others.

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The death of a baby or newborn is a hard time for any couple. The death of the baby may also be
linked to the woman herself being ill and hospitalized for sometime after the death of the baby. This
places major stress on a couples relationship. Sometimes it brings the couple closer together; sometimes
it can push them apart, especially if one of them blames the other for the death. In many communities,
the death of a baby is often sadly blamed on the mother, who then has to deal with her own grief and
feelings of guilt, and she may be subjected to blame from her partner or family. This requires additional
support to both the woman and her partner. It is important to help the couple to better understand the
cause of the babys death by going over the circumstances of the death.
In some communities the couple will be encouraged to have another baby to make up for the loss of
the baby that died. This places another stress on the couple and particularly on the woman who, even
if she has physically recovered from the loss of her baby, will often not want to have sexual intercourse
for some time. This may make her feel guilty that she is not able to be more loving to her husband or
partner. Another more serious response is that she may then be coerced or forced to have sex with
her husband. In such situations you can play an important role in encouraging the couple to take the
time to grieve over the loss of their baby before thinking of having another child.
If there are other children in the family, these children also need ongoing care and support and
involvement in the grieving process.

Support groups or others who have gone through similar experiences can provide
valuable support to a grieving family. Make a list of support groups or other contact
persons to offer a family affected by the death of a baby or the mother.

Preparing for death

In some situations it may be apparent that the mother and/or baby are going to die. Where it
is culturally appropriate you can help to prepare the mother, parents or family for the death by
explaining to them what is happening. Facilitate the needs they have; the family may want to have
time alone with the woman or baby, or they may want a quiet place to pray. Remember to maintain
confidentiality and to respect their wishes when possible.

Communicating death
One of the hardest things that you may have to do as a health worker is tell someone that their wife
or baby has died. No matter how often you may have to do this, it is still a difficult task. One of the
most important things is to communicate the death as quickly as possible. Even if the parents or family
members are present when the baby or mother dies, it may not be immediately apparent to them. As
soon as the death has occurred, you must find the next of kin and notify them.

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If possible take them to a private room where you can talk to them in confidential surroundings. Let
them remain in the room for as long as they need to be there. Try to accommodate their needs, for
example, some people will want to spend time with the deceased and may not want to be in a
separate room.

Explaining cause of death

When the death of a mother or baby is first communicated to family members they may or may not
want to know the cause of death. If you are fairly certain of the cause at that time, you can explain
this to them in simple terms, and give them an opportunity to ask questions and express their grief.
It is important to give information about the cause of death. If you are not certain of the cause you
can give the probable cause and explain some of the contributing factors. Ask the family how much
information they want at this time, you can always provide more details later. It is a good idea to
come back later and check whether the first information that you provided has been understood or if
the family have any new questions later, once the initial shock has subsided.
It can be useful to go through the different events leading up to the death and how these may or may
not have contributed to the outcome. The purpose of this is not to blame or point out where people
may have failed. Remember to show empathy and respect as you hold this discussion. Just as people
need reasons to follow actions we suggest, people need to understand the reasons why death has
occurred. Sometimes this information is needed because family members may be feeling guilty that
they did something wrong, or failed to do enough to prevent the death. Over time this information
may help with the bereavement process.

Time with the deceased

How people deal with death varies in different communities. Where it is culturally acceptable, people
should be encouraged to spend time with the dead person if they want to. You can help to facilitate
this period of being with the deceased person following death by providing a quiet place, away
from distractions, where privacy can be maintained. It may be helpful to designate a space within
your health facility where families can spend some time together following a death. Encourage family
members to spend as long as they need with the dead person.
Where a baby has died, parents may find it helpful to keep something that was linked with their
baby, if culturally acceptable, such as a strand of hair, a photograph or some clothing.

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Session 15

Family members should be able to spend time with the

deceased in a private place, if they so desire.


It provides an opportunity for the relatives to say goodbye.
It can help to see them looking peaceful as a last memory.
It can help to confirm the death and make it real.
It provides an opportunity to hold or embrace the deceased person.
For stillbirths it provides parents with an opportunity to see their child and have an
image for a memory.
It can provide a sense of closure.
Remember, be aware and respectful of context, cultural and individual preferences.

Practical tasks
There are a number of practical tasks that health workers are responsible for when a woman or baby dies.
A first task includes providing the family with a certificate of death and notifying the relevant
authorities or instructing the family how to do this.
A second task relates to discussing where the family wants the body sent. In some cases the body
may be sent to the mortuary. In others, the family may wish to take the body home for disposal
or burial according to their local customs or religion. In these cases it is important to check the
identity of the body before wrapping it for the family to take with them.
You might also be able to provide them with information on how to organize a funeral or burial if
they do not know how. If you do not have this information at your health facility, consider putting
it together in an information sheet to serve as a reminder for health staff.
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Other practical tasks may involve providing families with a list of sources of support within the
You may be in a position to refer people for more specialized counselling in the case of abnormal
or prolonged bereavement. If possible, you can also offer follow-up visits and on-going support
to the mother whose baby has died.
Where a mother has had a stillbirth or the baby has died shortly after birth you will also need
to advise the mother on breast care (see Session 13 under advice to women who are not
breastfeeding) and counsel her on an appropriate family planning method and the importance
of birth spacing (see Session 12).
Mothers who have lost their babies also need physical care just like any other woman after birth.
Encourage her to rest and sleep and to make sure she eats well to regain her strength. Make sure
she does not remain in a postnatal ward with other mothers who have just given birth.

Activity 1
30 minutes

To put together the relevant information on

death and bereavement to help people in
the community you serve.

1. Make a list of all the tasks that family members are required to do following the death of a
baby or mother (for example, obtain death certificate or register death, organize the burial
or disposal of the body, care needs for the mother if the baby has died or for the baby if
the mother has died).
2. Note down how the family needs to go about burying/cremating or disposing of the body
and which organizations or people can help them in this task.
3. Identify a place or room where families can spend some time with the deceased following
a death in the health facility. This place should be private.
4. Make a list of all the groups, community leaders, religious leaders and service providers
in your area who can offer support to families following a death.
5. Put all this information together in one place. You might consider turning it into an information
sheet to share with your colleagues or to give out to families.

Our View
Death can be an emotional time for health staff as well as family members. By putting this
information together in one place it will serve as a useful reminder of the key tasks that
need to be carried out, as well as providing additional information on sources of support
and practical help and advice that might get overlooked due to the emotional difficulties
surrounding a death.

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Session 15

Activity 2
Up to 2 hours (group)
30 minutes (individual).

To learn how to
show empathy.

This activity is to help you learn how to demonstrate empathy. If working alone, write your
answers down on some paper. If you are working in a group, take turns to talk and share
1. Take a few minutes to think about a situation where you have experienced grief or loss of
some kind.
2. Briefly describe what happened.
3. What were your first reactions? How did you feel? How did you express those feelings?
4. How did your feelings and the expression of those feelings change over time?
5. What support did you need during this time? What did you find useful? What did you find
difficult? What could have helped you more during this time?

Our View
Everyone experiences grief or loss in their own unique way. However, there are some
things that may be common to many people. If you did this as a group activity you may
have been able to identify some common themes. The emotions contributing to grief
are very strong and can be overwhelming; they can be expressed both physically and
emotionally. Write some notes on this activity in your notebook to help remind you of
what it is like to feel grief. These notes may help you to empathize with women and their
families who are experiencing the death of a family member.

The most important thing that you can do for a family or person who is bereaved is to offer your
support. Sometimes it can be helpful to discuss with the bereaved the process of what they believe
happens to the dead person. Every culture has a system of beliefs about death and ideas about what
happens to the body, spirit or mind after death. These beliefs and the traditions that go with them can
be useful in comforting families and parents. Long-term support for family members who have been
bereaved is most likely not possible for most health workers. You already have many other tasks,
roles and activities. However, sometimes you may wish to offer support beyond the immediate time
following death.
Other support can be offered just by listening to the feelings and emotions of the bereaved. They
might not want any practical support or feedback about what they are saying, just someone to listen
to what has happened. This is where it can be important to demonstrate your active listening skills,
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to show you are listening intently and to reflect back to the person what you hear them say. Some
family members may not want to talk but want an opportunity to express their feelings in a safe
environment, especially if it is not considered appropriate for them to show their feelings elsewhere,
or if they are unable to show them for other reasons. As a health worker, an important role can also
mean providing physical comfort such as holding or embracing the bereaved person or whatever is
culturally appropriate in your situation.
Some family members may benefit from more practical advice and support, particularly if they are
finding it difficult to cope with household chores or caring for other family members. Bereavement can
often reveal previously hidden problems or underlying tensions within a family. If you have the time,
work with families to find solutions which suit the context of their lives and which are appropriate for
their situation or consider referring them to specialist services where they exist.

Self-care and colleague support

As we have already discussed grief and bereavement can produce very strong emotions. As a health
worker you will also experience a range of emotions when someone you are caring for dies. It is
important that you take time to think about your feelings and reflect on the situation and what has
happened. You may just want to spend some quiet time alone, but it can also be beneficial to get
support from your colleagues. This can be done informally or you may want to schedule some time to
discuss your feelings and/or the event as a group.

What did I learn?

In this session you have looked at some of the ways in which you can offer practical and
emotional support to women and their families following a death. Your role is generally in the
immediate time following the death, however, some people can benefit from on-going support
either through referral to other organizations or from you. It is also important to remember the
extra strain and pressure death and bereavement can put on you as an individual. Make sure
you make time for yourself and get the support and attention you need so that you have the
energy and emotional capacity to continue to support those around you. Use your notebook to
write down your own feelings and emotions and try to identify any needs you have and how
you might take care of them.

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Part 3: Topics



Session 16

What is in this session?

Domestic violence is part of the lives of many women worldwide. This session provides an overview
of domestic violence and some of its consequences. It also examines some of the signs and symptoms
of abuse and how to ask questions to give support and facilitate counselling for women who are
experiencing violence. In addition, we examine how to plan to enhance their safety and how to put
them in contact with other support groups to enable them to make decisions about their health.
Despite the fact that violence may be very common in the community, discussing violence with
women may be a new topic area for many skilled attendants. Those who provide MCH services to
women are already a trusted source of information and advice and by building on this foundation of
trust, skilled attendants can be an important source of caring and support. It is not possible to cover
in one session all of the skills and knowledge needed to provide comprehensive counselling and
support for this topic. This session only provides an introduction; you are encouraged to discuss with
your colleagues and programme managers how the services can best provide support to women. If
violence against woman is very prevalent in your community, you might consider discussing in your
group or with your supervisor opportunities for additional training to help staff in supporting women.

What skills will I develop?

Ability to show empathy and respect
Ability to provide support and
guidance to women experiencing
Ability to self-reflect on own beliefs
and attitudes about violence.

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What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Describe the forms and patterns of domestic violence in relationships and the impact on womens
mental and physical health
2. Support women to talk about domestic violence and plan with them to increase their safety
3. Review how violence may impact on womens ability to follow health advice and health service
use, and support women to develop plans to reduce this impact
4. Support women who experience violence to gain help in their lives
5. Reflect on your own views and attitudes about domestic violence

Women and violence: an overview

Women are most commonly abused by their husband or partner (or ex- husband or partner). In
addition to the immediate physical harm, this violence can have great impact on womens mental and
physical health. This violence often persists, and may even get worse, during pregnancy, although for
many women in abusive relationships the violence decreases during pregnancy. Other women find
violence in the home starts when they are pregnant.

Women who have been abused tend to have:
low self-esteem and sense of self-worth
more anxiety and depression
destructive behaviours such as use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol and self-harm.
They are more likely to have:
sexually transmitted infections
unwanted pregnancies
a range of other gynaecological problems.
Health workers are often the first people women have ever spoken to about violence. A
process of self-reflection is important for you so that you are aware of the problem and
understand your own views and concerns on the topic - see Activity 1. Even if you have
not had any specialized training, there are a few practical steps that you can take to help
women who are experiencing violence.

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What is domestic violence?

When we think of domestic violence the image that usually comes to mind is that of a man beating his
wife. Physical violence is a big part of domestic violence and may take many forms. For example, a
woman may be slapped, kicked, pushed, have her hair pulled, or be hurt with a weapon. We often
witness such violence in our homes and community and you may have even experienced it yourself.
Domestic violence is usually committed by a husband or a partner (or ex-husband or partner). It can
also be committed by someone else at home, for example, a mother- in-law.
Sexual violence often accompanies physical violence but is more hidden. A woman may be forced
into sex when she does not want it, or forced to do a sexual act that she finds degrading or shameful.
Some countrys laws do not recognize rape in marriage, but married women never the less feel
violated if they are forced to have sex when they do not want it.
Domestic violence may also be in the form of controlling behaviours, such as not allowing a woman
to go out of the home, or to see friends, or seek health care without permission.

Some women experience emotional or financial abuse, with or without physical and
sexual violence. For example, being:
criticized repeatedly
called names
told she is ugly or stupid
shouted at
isolated from family and friends
left without enough money to run the home when her partner has money for nonessential items such as alcohol.

Dynamics of intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence has particular characteristics that make it different from other forms of
violence. First, it occurs in the context of a relationship that is usually expected to be intimate and
trusting; so when violence occurs, there is a strong feeling of betrayal and helplessness. Second, in
many societies men have higher social status; they are seen as being more important and having
more authority and rights than women. Many men think that because they have higher status they can,
and should, exercise power and control over women. In many communities men even feel they own
their wives and have a right, or even a responsibility, to punish them by using violence.
Some women experience violence at the start of their relationship and then it stops. For other women,
violence seems like a reign of terror and complete obedience is demanded at all times. Often a man
controls a woman through more subtle approaches. A man may be very violent and abusive for a
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time, and then stop and be affectionate. A woman may feel relieved that the violence has stopped,
and hopeful that it is a sign that her man has changed and the abuse will not happen again. It usually
does happen again, however, and may even be more severe next time, forming a cycle of violence.
Many women feel controlled by the periods of kindness and these reprieves often stop them from

Who causes domestic violence?

Violence between adults is usually against the law. If cases are brought to court, the person who
committed the violent act is held responsible and usually punished. Domestic violence and rape are
the only forms of violence, in most communities, where the victim of violence is often held responsible.
This is because of gender roles and inequalities. (You may wish to go back and review Session 4
where gender roles are discussed.) In most communities men have more power than women. As a
result of this people often assume that if there is a problem between a man and a woman, the man
must be right and must have acted reasonably, and the woman must have caused the problem.
The United Nations and World Health Organization recognize that domestic violence is a violation
of womens human rights, it is not acceptable behaviour, and women should not be held responsible
for it. Although domestic violence is very common in many countries, you will also find that in every
setting there are many men who do not abuse their wives and girlfriends, and these men show us that
it is quite possible for men to live with women without using violence.

Ending abuse
It is very difficult to change the behaviour of men who are controlling and violent. Some men become
less abusive as they get older, but others continue throughout their lives. Women can often only free
themselves from the emotional and physical hold that violent partners have over them by leaving.
However, many women do not want to leave their partners, or do not feel it is an option for them.
Leaving often does not solve womens problems, as many continue to experience forms of emotional
and physical violence even after they leave. The time of leaving is also one where women are at
higher risk of being hurt or killed. For those women who do leave, it is commonly the conclusion of a
process, rather than a single act. This process starts with the abused woman beginning to talk about
violence, recognizing that domestic violence is what she is experiencing and asking for help. Very
often she will leave for short periods and then return on several occasions before the final separation.
The process of talking with a health worker is an important first step to help women rebuild their selfesteem and understand what they are experiencing. For some women this will be a stage in a process
that will end in leaving. Some women may use it to start actions that may lead to a reduction in the
frequency and severity of violence and other women will just find it beneficial in terms of helping them
cope with their daily lives.

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Session 16


Cultural expectations of women as wives: Many cultures expect (or even force)
women to be married and financially supported by their husbands.
Economic and social reasons: Many women choose to stay in violent relationships
because their man provides for the family financially.
Womens role in upholding culture, family values and raising children: Many women
believe this is their responsibility, and they should raise their children in a home with
a father. They think that their welfare is less important than this ideal.
Belief that this is a womans lot and how men behave: Some women believe
violence is normal in relationships and that all men will be violent and controlling.
Fear of an extreme reaction to leaving: The time of leaving is one where a woman is
at higher risk of being hurt or killed.
Low self-esteem: Some women may believe they could not manage without their partner.
Love: Even though a man is violent, a woman may stay because she loves him, or she
remembers the good times of the past or acts of affection in between episodes of abuse.

Activity 1
Up to 1 hour (group)
30 minutes (individual)

To understand your own

views and attitudes about
domestic violence.

Domestic violence is something that many people are familiar with in their own lives. You may
have seen women with injuries from it, friends or relatives who have experienced it, or have
experienced it yourself. Because you are familiar with it, it is very likely that you already have a
lot of views on domestic violence. You may also have ideas on whether and how it should be
addressed in a health care setting. In this activity we would like you to explore your views. It is
much better to do this exercise in a small group, or with at least one other person if possible.
1. This activity uses Table 1 below. If you are in a group the person facilitating should have
this table open and other group members should not look at it yet. If you are working alone
you should take a sheet of paper to cover up the Responses column. You should start by
focusing your attention on the column Myths/barriers.
2. Read out the first barrier and ask them if they agree with it. Give everyone a chance to
raise their views. Then read out the response. What do you and your colleagues think of
the response? If you are doing this alone, write down the barrier in your note book and
write down along side it, if you agree with it or not. Then look at the response.
3. Continue down the list discussing each barrier/myth in turn.
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Activity 1 continued...
TABLE 1. Understanding your own views and attitudes about domestic violence


Our Response

This does not happen to

women in our community.

Domestic violence occurs in just about every country and in also

every age, ethnic and social group.

Unless the abuse is physical it

will not do much harm to her.

Violence takes many forms and many women find controlling

behaviour and undermining words worse than being hit. All
violence is problematic and unacceptable.

Women often lie about rape.

It is common for women who have been raped to conceal it,

especially to avoid being blamed and stigmatized.

It is a private matter or it is
not part of my job or I have
not time.

This is a human rights and public health problem. Addressing

violence takes a bit of time but may save health workers time in

Victims do not want to talk

about it or will get upset if the
issue is raised.

Women usually do want to talk to someone who shows empathy

towards their situation.

something to provoke it.

No one deserves to be hit or sexually abused whatever they did.

Violence happens to all

women and a woman should
just deal with it.

Violence is very common, but it is unacceptable, it has an

important impact on health, and support can and should be

This probably happened in

the past and it cannot be
affecting her now.

The effects of violence on a womans physical and mental health

can last for a lifetime.

I do not want to have to talk

about it as it makes me think
too much about my life.

Talking about violence always makes people think about their

own experiences of violence and can be upsetting. Health
workers who provide support often need support, but this should
not stop them from doing it.

I can see why her partner

beat her or if a woman does
something wrong, she should
expect to be corrected.

Just because a woman did something to make him angry does

not mean she deserved to be hurt. If a man or woman does not
like something their partner does, they should talk about it and
not use violence.

Unless she leaves him, it is a

waste of my time talking with

Leaving is difficult and is not an option for many women. There

are many things that you can do that can help a woman who
does not leave her abuser.

In this culture women think

beating is a sign of love.

In all countries women who experience violence have worse

health. There are sometimes local sayings or beliefs that minimize
or legitimize violence, but none the less most women greatly
suffer because of it.

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Activity 1 continued...

Our View
The attitudes and views expressed in the myths /barriers column are very commonly
held and can prevent health workers from adequately addressing this topic. Sometimes
we respond to violence a) with denial acting as if it is not occurring; b) by rationalization
or thinking of all the reasons why we should not try to address violence in womens
lives; c) by minimization of the problem - we may recognize that violence is common but
we act as if is not so common and minor; d) by identifying with the situation - it occurs
when we feel we understand very well what the woman may have experienced and it
makes us uncomfortable, or we feel we can understand what the perpetrator (person
responsible for the violence) was thinking and identify with him. If you are identifying
with the perpetrator, it is important to remember that you are not taking care of him, and
as a health worker your responsibility is towards the woman in front of you.
These defensive responses to violence are common. They can interfere with the ability of
a health worker to be empathetic, to avoid judgement and victim-blaming and to accept
that violence is something that they should be addressing in their work.
Some people hold very strong attitudes on the question of domestic violence that do not
seem to change very much when they learn more about the problem. They find it very
difficult to accept that women are not to blame and that domestic violence is a violation
of human rights, and an important health problem. If you feel that you strongly disagree
with many of our responses in this exercise and if, after reading this session, you still
disagree, you should ask yourself if you will be able to separate your personal views
from what we are saying is good practice. If you do not think you can respond with
empathy, it is better that you do not talk to women about domestic violence, and try to
refer any cases to a colleague.

Signs and symptoms of abuse

Women who experience physical and sexual violence and use health services may or may not have
obvious signs or symptoms of abuse. Some women will reveal their partner injured them. If a woman
has injuries, you should always ask how it happened and who caused the injury.

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if the woman seems very afraid or embarrassed
if the woman seems very sad or depressed, or thinking of killing or harming herself.
if she gives an explanation of the injury that does not sound right
if she has an injury that is usually caused by an assault, such as a black eye, or an
obvious cigarette burn.
if she has repeated, unexplained symptoms or repeated visits for health care or

Women who are beaten in pregnancy are often hit on their abdomen. This may cause a placental
abruption and there may be vaginal bleeding, she may miscarry and the fetus can die. You should
always ask about whether there has been violence if you see a woman with vaginal bleeding in
pregnancy or a miscarriage or bruises on her abdomen.
In women who are not pregnant, chronic pelvic pain of no obvious cause can be a common sign of
domestic violence. Pain during sexual intercourse may also be a sign of a previous rape. Sometimes
a woman visits health facilities very often with vague aches and pains, and staff can find no physical
cause. This may be a sign that she experienced domestic violence or has been raped in the past. If
you see a woman with these problems you should try to find out whether she is being, or has been,
Mental health problems are very commonly associated with domestic violence. Women lose their
self-esteem and self-confidence, often become anxious and depressed and may attempt suicide, or
harm themselves in other ways. In communities where alcohol or drugs or tobacco are accessible
for women, they may smoke very heavily, or use drugs or abuse alcohol, and they may do this in
pregnancy. Substance abuse is often a way of trying to deal with the psychological pain and fear of
being in a violent relationship.

Notes for discussing and supporting women on domestic violence

What can you do?
Many women who experience domestic violence feel completely alone. They may try to hide the
abuse. They may feel ashamed and fear being blamed. You as a health worker can talk with a
woman and show you are interested in her, that you care about what happened to her, and do
not believe it was her fault you can demonstrate respect and empathy. This will be of great initial
If you suspect there may be a problem of domestic violence you should try to discuss it, but it is
important to do this in a way that is supportive. The information below on discussing and supporting

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women experiencing domestic violence provides an outline of how this can be done. In summary,
you first need to establish privacy for this and enough time to talk properly. You may want to arrange
to meet on more than one occasion to talk through all the issues, but you should try and do everything
outlined in the session on the first visit.
When she has told you what has happened, it is useful to repeat the statement that it is not her fault.
This simple message is very important for women. It can help them start a process of rebuilding their
self-esteem and understanding what is happening in their lives.

Who should you ask?

We do not recommend that you ask every woman you see about violence, but you should ask any
woman where you suspect there may be a problem of violence. This should include women with:
inadequately explained injuries, bruises, miscarriage, vaginal bleeding in pregnancy, STIs, persistent
aches and pains without a clear cause, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. You may also want
to ask women who miss their own or their childrens appointments and book late, mothers of children
with emotional and behavioural problems, and those who cannot stop smoking and drinking alcohol
during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Safety Precautions
Never ask about abuse within earshot of a womans husband, partner or his relatives. If necessary,
think of an excuse to see the woman alone, such as by sending the person off to fill in a form, or
asking a colleague to distract them with a conversation. Also remember to maintain confidentiality
in the health facility, ensure privacy and do not write anything down about abuse unless you know it
can be kept confidential.

Introducing the topic: showing empathy

You might want to start off in the following way that demonstrates that the woman will be safe
disclosing violence to you and that you will support her:
Many women experience violence from their husband or partner, or even someone else they live
with. It often causes health problems and can stop women visiting health services when they need
to and from following health advice. I have seen women with problems like yours who have been
experiencing domestic violence. I would like to ask you a few questions because I want to help you
and to help you find others who can also support you. Anything you say to me will be kept between
ourselves. Before we go further, I want to tell you that if you have been experiencing violence you
should not blame yourself for it, as a womans behaviour never justifies abuse.

Screening questions
These are some simple and direct questions that show you want to hear about her problems. You
might want to adapt them a little to fit in with your own style and to ask about forms of violence you
know are common in your area.
Has your husband (or partner) or someone at home ever threatened to hurt you or physically hurt
you in some way? If yes, when did it happen?
Were you ever forced into sex or to have sexual contact you did not want?

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Does your husband (or partner) or someone at home bully you or try to control you or put you
down or stop you doing things you want to do?
Are you afraid of your husband (or partner)?
Has your husband (or partner) threatened to kill you?
If a woman answers yes to any of these questions you should use open-ended questioning and
active listening skills to encourage her to give you a full account of what happened (or happens).

Show respect and that you believe her

Acknowledge that you can understand that everything she has told you must have been very distressing
for her and tell her again that no woman deserves these things to happen to her.

Reviewing the impact on her health, how to reduce this, and sources of support
You should then ask her how she thinks it impacts on her health, her ability to follow health advice
and use of health services and discuss ways of reducing this impact. Then you should help her to think
about how she could get help and assess her safety. Arrange to see her again.
It is very important to review with her what she thinks might help her. Remember to facilitate the
process, so that she might identify someone she can talk with about her problems. Most women will
benefit from exploring whether there is a family member, friend, or religious leader in whom they
could confide, and from whom they could get support. She might suggest someone who could talk
with her husband (or partner) although you should warn her that if this is not done carefully, it could
lead to retaliatory violence. We do not recommend that health workers do it. You should also talk
about anything that might help her protect her health more effectively.

Developing a Safety Plan

Finally, before a woman leaves, you should discuss safety issues to ensure that she is not at high risk
of severe physical harm. If she is, you should advise her of this and support her in developing a plan
for her (and her childrens) safety. Women find it much easier to take an action, such as fleeing when
they are under threat, if they have thought it through beforehand.
Safety assessment: a woman who answers yes to any of these questions needs a safety plan
1. Has your husband/boyfriend threatened to kill you?
2. Does he have a gun, or knife, or other weapon he might use at home?
3. Has he threatened you with a weapon?
4. Have you been beaten recently? Is the violence getting more frequent and severe?
The idea of a safety plan is that it enables a woman to be able to leave her home very quickly if
violence escalates or she becomes particularly afraid, and to stay away for at least a few days, if
necessary, until she can return in safety.

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1. If you need to leave your home in a hurry, where could you go?
2. Would you go alone or take your children with you?
3. How will you get there? Do you need money for this?
4. Do you need to take any documents, or clothes, or other things with you when you
leave? What is essential?
5. Can you leave a few items with someone for safe keeping just in case?
6. Do you have access to money if you need to leave? Where is it kept? Can you get it
in an emergency?
7. Is there a neighbour you can tell about the violence who can call the police or come
with assistance for you if they hear sounds of violence coming from your home?

Documenting abuse
Everything a woman discusses with you must be kept confidential. Remember to assure her that all
discussions about her situation and related issues are confidential , or explain the limits of confidentiality
if, for example, it is mandatory to report cases of abuse. Only you and essential members of the
health care team will know about her status, and you will maintain confidentiality among yourselves.
Some women have experienced violence when their husband or partner has discovered they discussed
their experiences with other people. In many health facilities confidentiality is hard to guarantee. It
is only helpful to record injuries, or other consequences of violence in the health records if domestic
violence is against the law in your country and the police actively pursue cases. In this case, it can
be useful to make a note in a womans health records documenting as completely and accurately as
possible everything she has told you and any injuries or other health consequences. In communities
where there is no legal solution, it may be better not to write anything down, just in case it is ever
held against her in some way.

Activity 2
Up to 1 hour (group)
30 minutes (individual)

To help you think of sources of

help for women experiencing
domestic violence.

Sometimes we feel there is little we can do to help women who experience domestic violence,
but there may be more sources of help and influence than you may think. Some cultures have
established ways of trying to address domestic violence, for example, by the intervention of
older people. Sometimes people who are asked for help are really useful, and sometimes they
may not be. We want you to think about this, do some research on the topic, and have a list
of possible sources of help in your community so you are better able to advise women.
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Activity 2 continued...
1. Are there local practices for trying to address domestic violence? Write in your notebook a
list of all the people and places in your community where a woman experiencing domestic
violence might go to for help, or who may become involved if she is being abused by her
husband or partner or other family members. Think of all the formal services for help (such
as police, social workers, and womens groups) and informal sources (such as mothers,
sisters, neighbours). Leave a space between each source of help on your list so you can
add more information about each source on the page.
2. Now draw two lines coming from each source of help. For each, think of the best form of
help they could give a woman and note this against the top of the two lines. Then think
of the most unhelpful response a woman can get from that person or place, and write this
against the lower of the lines.


3. How can you make it more likely that possible sources of help will provide the best form
of support?
4. For those groups or sources that could help women, do you have information on how to
contact them? If groups do not exist, how could you help women start their own support
group or support each other? Could you help facilitate setting up such a group?
5. Keep a list of the best sources of support and contact information so you can share it with
colleagues and use it to assist you when reflecting on options with women.
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Activity 2 continued...

Our View
Many women want to talk with people they already know such as relatives, friends,
neighbours or religious leaders. These people can sometimes be very helpful and may
have formal roles in the local culture for intervening when there is domestic violence. But
sometimes they can be very unhelpful. They can make a woman feel worse, by telling her
it is her fault and that the violence will only stop when she changes her behaviour. If more
people speak about domestic violence, talk about the health consequences, question why
this form of violence should be treated differently from other forms, and question why
women should be blamed, it is possible to begin to change attitudes. Is it possible for the
health services in your community to take on this role? You may want to talk about this
with your colleagues and the programme manager. There are usually many people who
do not agree with domestic violence in a community and raising awareness of it can
help them take action in the families and social networks to support women who they see
need support.
In some communities women may be able to get legal protection. You should find out what
the situation is in your country. Social workers may also provide help, and there may be
womens organizations or other non-governmental or community-based organizations
that can provide assistance and support for women. It is useful to ask around and put
together a contact list.
Helping women who experience domestic violence support one another can be very
useful. If there is no support group in your community, think about how you could help
them meet and talk through their experiences and generate options.

Domestic violence, health and the use of health services

A woman who experiences domestic violence may use health facilities more often because her health
is worse than the health of other women. However, she may find some types of services difficult to
use, or may fear using them, because it could anger her partner. Violent men sometimes prevent
their partners from using essential health services, such as antenatal care, as a form of punishment
or control, or because they will not spend money on their wives. If a woman books late, or misses
antenatal appointments, or has health problems that normally you would expect would have been
brought to the attention of a skilled attendant earlier, you should ask her if anyone was preventing or
discouraging her from attending.
Can you think of anything you or others could do to help abused women attend antenatal care

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A woman experiencing domestic violence often finds her husband (or partner), or his relatives, limits
her ability to make decisions on her own about her health. You may see this with breastfeeding.
She may experience pressure from home to either breastfeed, or formula feed, when it is against
her wishes, and her health interests. She may, for example, be coerced to give traditional foods to
her baby when she has chosen to exclusively breastfeed when she has HIV because her husband or
mother-in-law insists it is best for the baby, yet she is afraid to tell them her HIV status and explain why
it is especially important to exclusively breastfeed. Can you think of a way to help in such situations?
Sometimes it is possible to help an abused woman use services she needs more safely. If a woman
wants contraception against her husbands wishes, for example, you can suggest a method such as
an injectable contraceptive. You can also arrange it so a woman does not have to attend a family
planning clinic for contraception.
Men who are violent often have more sexual partners and are more likely to have sexually transmitted
infections, including HIV. A wife may discover she has a sexually transmitted infection, possibly HIV,
and may be very fearful of telling her husband, while recognizing the need for him to get tested
or treated. If a woman is tested and found to have HIV or an STI and is afraid to tell her partner,
you could suggest that she pretends she has not been tested and tries to get him to attend with her
so that they can both have an HIV test. That way they are both counselled and receive their results
at the same time. Look at Session 14 on Women and HIV/AIDS for further suggestions on couple
counselling and mediated disclosure.
Domestic violence can impact on the health of a child in many ways. A man who abuses his wife will
often also be violent towards his children, and children suffer psychological distress, that can be very
severe, when they witness such violence. You may suspect there are problems of violence at home
if you recognize behavioural and emotional problems in children. A woman who has severe mental
health consequences of violence may be less able to give her children all the care another mother
would give. Can you think of a way of helping women who experience such problems remember
they need to attend clinics for immunization and other aspects of infant and child health care?

Activity 3
30 minutes

To practise your skills at talking

about domestic violence.

If you are working in a group you should carry this out as a role-play, rotating roles. If you
are working alone, ask a colleague or a friend to sit with you to act as the person being
counselled. If you are in a group you might want to have some people presenting with injuries,
some with vaginal bleeding in pregnancy, and others with depression, then practise asking
them questions in different situations.

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Activity 3 continued...
1. Prepare to provide support and remember to go through all the following stages:
Make sure that you are in a completely private place and no one can listen in.
Introduce the subject sensitively and with empathy.
Ask one or more open-ended questions about violence and encourage her to tell her story.
You can also try indirect questioning.
Show you respect her and believe her by actively listening and demonstrating empathy.
Talk to her about how she thinks domestic violence impacts on her health and health
service use, discuss ideas for helping her to follow health advice and attend services that
she wants and needs.
Talk with her about what support she wants and what might help her with the violence.
Assess her safety, and if she is at risk of very severe violence, support her in developing a
safety plan (refer back to safety assessment and planning in this session).
Document her medical problem, but do not write anything down about the violence unless
it is safe to do so, and provide any treatment that is required.
Organize follow-up.
2. Ask the person you have been counselling how it felt for her. Did she feel safe enough
to reveal her problems? Did she feel supported? Ask her to tell you your strengths and
weaknesses, remembering to draw from the key counselling skills and process learned in
Sessions 2 and 3.

Our View
We may have strong opinions about what we believe a woman should or should not
do if she is being abused. We may want to use our position in the community to call the
man in and tell him to stop beating her. At other times we may want to tell a woman just
to leave him. These seem like obvious solutions but they can cause a lot of problems if
the woman could be punished for even having told you about her abuse and it is often
difficult to leave (and stay away). It is very important to maintain a non-directive and
supportive approach based on the principles of counselling and not to tell people what
they should do. It is important that we support the woman experiencing domestic violence
in exploring her options and in deciding for herself what she can do to help herself.
Often, one of the most helpful steps for a woman experiencing abuse is to know that
someone cares. Make her feel supported and let her know that a woman should not have
to suffer through this. If you think she is experiencing abuse and does not want to tell you
about it, it is best not to force her but to let her know that if she (or someone she knows)
ever does experience abuse, she can come and talk with you about it.

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Supporting health workers

Talking about violence with women regularly stirs up strong emotions in health workers, especially if
they have close personal experience of violence. It is important to find a way of supporting yourselves
in a way that does not breach the confidentiality of the woman who you have been counselling. You
can do this by talking with sympathetic colleagues. Can you make a plan now for whom you can
talk to and when you can meet?

What did I learn?

After finishing this session you should be aware that domestic violence can take many forms,
but it is always a violation of human rights. You should be able to better understand the
dynamics of violence in relationships and why it can be very difficult for a woman to leave a
violent relationship. You should also understand that it can affect her health in very many ways,
both physically and emotionally, and influence her use of health and other services.
It is important to learn how to ask women about violence. It can be a difficult thing to start
doing, as you may feel it is a private matter or you may have your own experiences of violence
that are still painful. You have taken time to learn how to ask women safely about abuse and
how to support them, even if there are few resources or services available to help them. It is
important to remember that just showing kindness can be very helpful, and can give women
courage and reassurance.
Are you confident you could ask about violence if you suspected it? Are you clear what your
role is? Do you have information about the law in your country and what services and support
groups are available? Do you think you could help abused women form their own group? In
your notebook write down the answers to some of these questions and any key points you have
learned from this session.

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Session 17

What is in this session?

This session describes what you can do as an individual health worker. However, active participationof
non-health actors and community representatives in planning maternal and newborn services should
be adressed by the programme manager.

WHO has developed a framework for MNH programmes for working
with individuals, families and communities to improve maternal and
newborn health.
A toolkit for supporting implementation will soon be available, so check the web page
when you can for more information or write to us to request a copy at mncah@who.int.

What skills will I develop?

Forming an alliance with the
Establishing links with other health
care providers and leaders
Practical skills for efficiently
planning and organizing
productive meetings.

What am I going to learn?

By the end of this session you should be able to:
1. Outline the benefits and problems of team work/working with others
2. Identify the relevant groups, organizations and providers that you can establish links with
3. Facilitate joint action.

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Working with the community

Ideally, everyone within the community should be aware of the specific needs of a woman and her
newborn, and informed about the situation of women and neonates in the community. The health
services together with the community can find different ways to solve problems, thus becoming jointly
involved in the processes of improving health.

Advantages of health services and communities working together

Collaboration, or forming community partnerships, is a difficult challenge, particularly between parties
who may not be used to working together. However, it can bring many benefits:
It allows for increased knowledge and understanding of what different groups can contribute.
It helps to clarify roles and avoid duplication of effort and work.
It leads to a more effective use of resources.
It supports groups who would not normally see themselves as having a role in maternal and
newborn health understand how they might contribute.
It allows for a more comprehensive analysis of health problems and for the identification of
realistic solutions.
It helps to minimize gaps in the provision of care and provides better coverage of services.
It co-ordinates information and advice among different providers, assuring uniformity rather than
conflicting information. Information can also be formulated with the community so that it is more
easily accepted and more pertinent to the reality.
It helps the health services and personnel learn more about local traditions and practices, and
whether they present barriers to health service use, and if so, how these can be overcome.

Ways for health services and communities to work together

Additional skills which can help to improve working with other groups include communication,
facilitation in meetings, and institutional strengthening of partners in management processes.
The different groups you work with have different roles and responsibilities which they currently fulfil,
and different ways of working to meet their objectives. It is important to work out how you can reach
a shared vision of what you want to achieve.
For example, if you have all agreed on a skilled attendant at birth for all pregnant women and
newborns as a common objective, you could follow the steps described below:
1. You would need to work with the other groups and providers to define what you mean by birth
with a skilled attendant - make sure you have a good measure of what the current use is and a
target of what level of use you want to achieve over a defined time period.
2. The next step would be to assure that all parties understand who the women are who are
currently seeking care (as you have defined) and why these women are not using the services.
You may need to gather additional information, through exit interviews, focus groups or in-depth
interviews, and not just rely on what the groups think they know. It is important you find ways to
hear from women themselves.

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3. After there is a good understanding of the problem, together you can discuss possible solutions
and elaborate a plan to overcome the barriers to use of care and to increase the use of services
with a skilled attendant.
4. Together you can map out all the different resources you have in your community to see how they
fit together e.g. see who currently provides which services, who would best be suited for the
different tasks in the plans, what other groups you may need to involve, and how to divide roles
and the responsibilities to achieve the plan.
You also need to work out how you will liaise and communicate with one another and which group or
organization or even individual will take the lead and responsibility for coordinating the work together.

Different actors in the community

It may not be possible to work with the whole community, but you can work with certain groups or key
individuals in the community. A community is made up of different groups and individuals:

Community leaders: e.g. political, religious or informal

Community groups: e.g. womens groups, youth groups, income generating groups
Community health volunteers
TBAs, traditional healers.

Since our focus is maternal and newborn health, it is important that you hear from women directly and
include groups who work with women and who can best represent them.

Link with community leaders

Every community has a number of different community leaders. Some of these will be religious leaders,
some political, some tribal or natural leaders, or people in positions of authority. These leaders can
have many roles, for example, they can be influential on social norms, beliefs and attitudes. They
can be influential decision-makers and planners, so that they are important for organizing transport
for referrals or may be important for the provision of information. We often refer to leaders in the
community as the gate keepers, they are the key people who have access to the wider community as
a whole. As it is often not possible to work with the whole community, it is important to identify those
leaders who can provide access to and represent the whole community. These are the key people that
we need to work with. Do you know who the key community leaders are in your community? How
can you find out who these people are? Consider making a resource list with the names and contact
details of all the key community leaders in your area. Often these lists have already been put together
by another group find out what exists in your area.

Working with community groups

Different community groups exist either health related or non-health related, e.g. breastfeeding groups,
agricultural groups, etc. The dynamics of these groups can be used to mobilize their members on
maternal and newborn health issues as you have examined throughout this Handbook. For example,
you have looked at:

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cultural and gender practices in your community

seeking community support and engaging the community in birth and emergency plans such as
village transport plans
knowledge of danger signs and when to seek care
ways to support women during pregnancy, after an abortion and after birth
healthy and harmful practices
strengthening and supporting mothers groups and support groups.
What other ways can you work with the community? For example, you can also have an input into
changing gender and cultural norms which have a negative effect on womens health. You could
consider getting feedback from the community about the quality of the services which are provided to
them. You can also work with the community to get feedback on health information you provide and
what they understand by this information. Consider including the community in developing practical
action plans on how they can support women during pregnancy and after birth, for example, by
looking after other children, helping the woman with household chores, or support for payments that
need to be made.


a common task or purpose
clear definition of roles and responsibilities of the different players
different expertise for different functions/tasks
supporting one another in different tasks
skills and personalities complementing one another
commitment to achieving functions/tasks
a leader to take responsibility and coordinate.

Discuss in advance how you can work together.

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Links with Traditional Birth Attendants and Traditional Healers

Traditional healers and TBAs are two groups involved in the provision of health care and who are
often well respected and trusted members of the community. WHO recommends that you invite
them to the health facility so that you can share with them the work, knowledge and advice that you
have. Health services should make real efforts to establish relations with the TBAs as they can offer
insight into local pregnancy and childbirth traditions and highlight areas for concern. They are also
often the only ones who have confidential insight into the needs of women and their fears. Sexuality
issues may sometimes only have been discussed between the woman and her TBA. Encouraging the
TBAs to come on board with any new pregnancy and childbirth practices is an effective means of
developing the trust that women and the community will place in the new practices.

Encourage Traditional Birth

Attendants to refer women to you.

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Linking with the Community

There are several practical ways that you can establish links with TBAs and traditional healers:
Include them in your referral system: encourage them to refer women to you. and provide them
with feedback on women they have referred to you.
Clarify together what constitutes harmful, harmless or helpful practices.
Examine what resources you could share, e.g. leaflets, posters or condoms or disposable gloves.
Share with them your knowledge and expertise. Discuss points where you differ, respecting each
others right to express their views, but each presenting the statements to support their opinion.
Work with them to explain the key information of the PCPNC related to pregnancy, birth and
postnatal care for women and newborns including family planning, STIs, breastfeeding and care
of the newborn.
Invite them to participate in meetings that you hold for community groups and providers.
Ask for their help in identifying women who may be at risk.
Encourage them to persuade all women to give birth with a skilled birth attendant.
Encourage them to ensure each woman has a birth and emergency plan.
Encourage TBAs to act as labour companions for women and provide support immediately after
Consider using them as a valuable source of feedback about the services you provide.
Encourage them to work through this Handbook.

Activity 1
Variable (you may
need to carry this
activity out over
several weeks).

To help you establish links with other

health care providers, community
groups and leaders and to establish
ways of working with them.

If you are working in a group, then divide up the activities so you each have responsibility for
a different area of preparation and follow-up.
1. Make a list of providers and groups that work in your community.
2. Find out what each of the different groups/providers currently do with respect to the care of
the woman and newborn during pregnancy, birth and after birth. Collate this information
into a document to be used as a future resource.
3. Identify the most common health problems related to pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum/
postnatal periods in your community. Use local morbidity (illness) and mortality (maternal
and newborn deaths) data to help you. You may be able to get this information from health
service or district annual reports or from your health information registers in the maternity

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Session 17

Activity 1 continued...
4. Work out a way to co-ordinate and unify information on these common health problems
related to the care of the woman and newborn during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum/
postnatal period.

Think about how you might be able to do this in advance of setting up a meeting:

a. You could consider generating key information together.

b. You could provide a list in advance that you discuss at the meeting.

Try to keep it simple and focused on the most important information relevant for the

5. Organize a meeting/meetings where representatives and leaders from these providers or

groups can attend. Remember to prepare an agenda in advance.
6. At the meetings define the roles and responsibilities different people and groups can make
with respect to maternal and newborn health. Try to come up with ideas for things that you
can do to improve maternal and newborn health.
7. During or after the meeting, prepare an action plan defining responsibilities and activities
(including a timeline) that each of you have to do and circulate it to all participants.
8. Decide upon a person or group who will be responsible for monitoring how the
implementation of the action is occurring according to the action plan.
Tips for planning a meeting
Make a list of all the people who need to be invited.
Ensure you have a place to meet, which is big enough to take the whole group. You may
need to think about transport and ease of access.
Make sure you send out invitations to the meeting well in advance to make sure people
are free. One way is to find out available dates in advance and then pick the day that
most people can attend; it is unlikely you will get a day when everyone is free to come.
Another way is to see if it is possible to add some points of your agenda to a meeting that
is already organized for another purpose.
Plan what you want to cover in the meeting in advance write down some aims and
objectives. Use these to come up with an agenda and send this out with the invitation.
If you have any other supporting materials you may want to send these in advance so
people can prepare for the meeting.
On the day of the meeting organize the space so that everyone is comfortable and can
see one another if you can, organize the space so you are sitting in a circle or round a
group of tables.
Consider whether you can provide refreshments, especially for those who have had to
travel a long way.
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Linking with the Community

Activity 1 continued...
Choose someone to chair the meeting, and someone to take minutes, which is a way of
recording what has been discussed, and any plans or action that you come up with, and
dates for future meetings.
Remember to also remind people of the aims and objectives of the meeting before you start
going through the agenda items.
Sometimes it can be helpful to set ground rules for the meeting suggestions might be
things like addressing questions through the chair, not talking over one another, respecting
different points of view.
Have an item any other business on your agenda so people can raise other issues that
you might not have thought about.

Our View
This activity is to help you unify the information, care and advice that is given to women
for pregnancy, childbirth and after birth in your community and to identify the most
pressing problems and possible solutions for women and newborn. It is important that
women are not given conflicting advice and that you can advise women where to go for
additional support and advice within the community. As health care providers you are
part of a network of wider care and support and it will help you to be able to utilize the
resources of this network. Health problems can be tackled from many different angles.
By working in partnership you may be able to achieve far more than by working in

What did I learn?

You should be aware of the usefulness of establishing links with different providers and groups
within the community. Are you more confident about how to work with them as partners?
It should be a long-term goal of the health service to develop and maintain partnerships.

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A Handbook for Building Skills




This assessment is to help you assess your skills and knowledge in counselling for maternal and
newborn health now that you have completed this Handbook. If you are working in groups you
should carry out the assessment on an individual basis but present your assessment to the rest of
the group for discussion and feedback from both the group members and the facilitator. If you are
working on your own, consider presenting your assessment work to your colleagues or mentor, for
some feedback on how you have done.

1 hour

The first part of the assessment is

for you to reflect on the work you
have done in the Handbook.

1. Take some time to review your notebook and the Handbook to remind yourself of all the
material that has been covered. Then note down the following:
a. The most important things you have learned
b. The skills that you have developed
c. The areas that you would like to practise or improve.
2. Refer back to your motivation for working through the Handbook that you wrote down in
Session 1. How far did you manage to fulfil your own personal objectives?

222 | Counselling for MNH



This part of the assessment is for you to

review case studies of women you have
counselled for maternal and newborn
health and reflect on your counselling

1. Write up three case studies of women you have counselled. You can either use three
new case studies, or use case studies from your notebook from previous sessions or a
2. Your write up should include the following:
a. Brief description of the person/people you were counselling
b. Outline of the problem, issue or topic that was discussed
c. How you approached the counselling session
d. A review of the interaction (you might consider audio or video taping a session if you
have access to the equipment and if the woman consents)
e. What you felt went well, and what you felt could have been improved upon or done
f. The outcome in terms of the decisions made and any action that was taken
g. Any follow-up or further information
3. If possible try to get some feedback from the women or people you counselled on how
they felt the session went and what they think was good and what could have been done
differently or was missing.
4. Look to see if there are any common themes in your case studies in terms of what went
well, and what could have been improved upon. How might you address the areas which
need further work or skills building?
5. After you have presented your case studies, ask your group or colleagues for their comments,
ideas or advice on what you have done.

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A Handbook for Building Skills


Annex 1 : Information and Counselling Sheets
from the PCPNC

Annex 1

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Information and Counselling Sheets from the PCPNC

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Information and Counselling Sheets from the PCPNC

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Annex 1

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Information and Counselling Sheets from the PCPNC

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Annex 1

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Information and Counselling Sheets from the PCPNC

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Annex 1

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Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health

E-mail: mncah@who.int

Department of Making Pregnancy Safer

World Health Organization

Avenue Appia, 20
Geneva 27, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 791 5853
E-mail: MPSpublications@who.int